Phoebe Waller-Bridge is not the first female filmmaker to utilise the erotic potential of the confessional box, nor is she the only woman both behind and in front of the camera - Isabel Sandoval, directed, wrote, edited and starred in Shangri-La, the 21st fashion film commission for the Miu Miu Women's Tales series. The sensual short opens with Sandoval sitting in a church confessional, confiding her desire for an American farmhand named Samuel, who magically appears, listening on the other side of box. But their love is forbidden; the film is set in California during the Great Depression, a time in which interracial marriage was banned by state law (Sandoval's character is a second generation Filipino farmhand). In a hallucinatory reverie, Sandoval describes the merging of her lover's body and soul with her own. 'I do it for the thrill of moving under the sun, loose and carefree, as you do, simply because of the colour of your skin and your sex. It's a sensation so alien to me, I'd do anything for the taste of it,' she says.
The title of the film is telling - the utopian, paradisiacal concept of shangri-la was an impossible dream for immigrants living in the xenophobic culture of 19th and early 20th century America, but the prejudice does not stop Sandoval's character reaching for it nonetheless. Before the credits roll, Sandoval says, 'I will love who I want to, and I'll be loved right back.'
Sandoval is a director, writer, editor, producer and actress from the Philippines who lives and works in New York City. She made history at the 2019 Venice International Film Festival’s ‘Giornate degli Autori’ section with the first film directed by a trans woman of colour, Lingua Franca.
In the absence of a red carpet, the Italian brand's all-important girl gang dressed up in Miu Miu attire to attend the 'digital premiere' of Shangri-la on Instagram - Erin O'Connor, Raffey Cassidy and Storm Reid among them.
Miu Miu’s ongoing fashion film series has given the medium a feminist tilt ever since its inception in 2011, with two films released each year by a list of exclusively female directors invited to 'investigate vanity and femininity in the 21st century.' Previous directors have included Agnès Varda, Ava DuVernay, Lynne Ramsay and Miranda July alongside emerging directors like Sandoval, while Miu Miu have even gone so far as to hire novice filmmakers; in 2018, actress Dakota Fanning made her directorial debut with Hello Apartment. Miuccia Prada, the label’s founder and designer, is held in high regard in the industry for her intellectualist approach to clothing; she holds a PhD in political science and was once part of the Italian Communist Party in the 1960s. Today, she is the co-chair of Fondazione Prada, a namesake cultural institution dedicated to ‘literature, cinema, music, philosophy, art and science’ - Women’s Tales is therefore an organic offshoot of Mrs. Prada’s experimentation with art and culture.