Over the past few years, roughly a decade or so, the world of fashion and, more specifically modeling, has become fodder for every type of media ranging from expose style documentary or a reality TV show. However, very few are as devastatingly haunting as this stunner of a non-fiction film.
Entitled Girl Model, this is the latest film from director duo Ashley Sabin and David Redmon, and follows the parallel stories of a talent scout, known to us as Ashley, and a young Russian teen, Nadya. Nadya comes from a poor house in an equally poor neighborhood, and is looking to help break herself, and her entire family for that matter, out of their situation back home with a new gig in Japan. Ashley however, is proof that not only is this business an absolute bastard to break into, but it’s also one that will break you if you don’t. And this film will break you, no matter how strong your will may or may not be.
Structurally, the film is quite odd. Playing stylistically as if it were a more meditative, almost Bergman-esque type of introspective horror piece, the film thrives when it is thrust solely upon the shoulders of our scout, Ashley, a woman who admits to the horrors of the business, but is given the job of snatching these young women out of the masses to toss them into the machine that for all intents and purposes broke her mentally. Nadya’s story is a touching one, but is one that ultimately doesn’t break much ground. That said, there are brilliant little moments here, primarily due to the director’s assured and slight hand, where you see that she’s very much a young girl, just looking to do what she loves to do; take photos. Be it the bright eyed casting call or a funny beat where her and a fellow model binge eat trying to get out of their contract, these moments not only add to the film’s emotional heft, but make the melancholic payoff so much more potent.
And the pair of Redmon and Sabin couldn’t be stronger documentarians. While the film doesn’t feature many purely cinematic flourishes, what the duo are able to do is imbue the film with a sense of terrifying melancholy, a sense that this machine is not only destructive, but utterly never ending. One wouldn’t be shocked if in, say ten years, little Nadya became the next young scout, becoming addicted to the business like her current scout. Redmon and Sabin allow their film to breathe, without saying much of anything on screen themselves (save for one oddly placed confrontation in a car in Japan near the film’s conclusion), making this film truly haunting, and completely moving.
Overall, while there are a few odd beats (be it the previously mentioned confrontation or the reveal of two doll children), they all culminate in a film that is both brutally honest and insightful, and also breathtakingly devastating. A documentary with tinges of true intra and interpersonal horror, Girl Model is a documentary that viewers won’t soon forget. Nor should they.