Girl Model Review

Film Still
  • Girl Model film still


Girl Model is hugely uncomfortable at times, yet it's essential, revelatory viewing.

Towards the beginning of David Redmon and Ashley Sabin's investigative documentary, Girl Model, there's a long, snaking tracking shot which ghosts above a line of sallow, scantily clad ingenues in a strip-lit warehouse. Some of their faces bear traces of hope. Others already seem defeated and cognisant of the process of dehumanisation they're about to be subjected to. This sequence sets the tone for a chillingly insightful look at the amoral, resolutely non-glamourous world of intercontinental model trafficking.

There are two subjects in Girl Model. The first is 13-year-old Nadya, a friendly, open-faced and mercifully strong-willed Siberian girl encouraged by her poverty-stricken family to travel to Japan to earn money as a model. Her story is cross-cut with that of her counterpoint, Ashley, a detached American model-turned-scout who bears the psychological scars of her earlier experiences and acts as a living embodiment of the contradictions of the modelling world. She despises it, yet is unable to extricate herself from its tendrils of financial comfort.

The unpolished nature of the film's style is apposite, with the amateurish, jerky quality of the cinematography adding to the enveloping sense of nausea. The artificial light of airports and railways also evinces the sickly repetition of long journeys. There are flashes of formal invention, including the Tarnation-esque use of Ashley's confessional video diaries and the dazzling moment in which a photocopier's buzz is synced to the soundtrack, echoing the theme of mechanical reproduction.

On more than one occasion, the film tips into outright horror, especially in interviews between Ashley and the monstrously sleazy bosses of the agencies. Such is the unpleasantness on display, one can't help but wish for the filmmakers to step in and assist Nadya. However, they steadfastly uphold their dispassionate, remote gaze save for one or two fleeting interjections.

Girl Model is hugely uncomfortable at times, like watching an anthropological experiment unfold. Yet it's essential, revelatory viewing that speaks volumes about the culture of commodification woven into an industry whose public face is hugely different from its private one.

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