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David Redmon and Ashley Sabin's Girl Model is a lot like Lee Hirsch's directorial debut in the documentary world, Bully, which came out earlier this year. Both films are well done and do a mostly efficient job at drumming up awareness to their subject, but both leave things undeveloped and occasionally have a pending "half-baked" feeling to them. While I thoroughly enjoyed Bully, mainly for its message, its tone, and its deep stories told by the victims with sincerity and bravery, such topics as the reason why kids bullied others and interviews with the actual bullies or their parents were mysteriously absent.
We begin by meeting our main model, a thirteen year old Russian model named Nadya Vall. She is moderately tall, with pale skin, and a feeble body thanks to little food consumption. She has thinned herself down to amazingly slender shape only so she can be trafficked all across the United States, Siberia, and Japan to help her family through financial trouble. The picture opens with a beauty judge going through a lineup of girls, announcing their flaws to another woman as if they are public information. The dehumanization he brings to these women, as the looked of unadulterated failure rests in their eyes is hurtful to watch. The same man later tells us that three things you need to be a successful model are "grace, good communication skills, and manners." You'll also need a rhino's skin and a high level of self-esteem, but those perks come omitted from the modelling handbook I presume.
One modelling agency representative named Noah states that he loves the job of a model agent for the sole purpose that he feels he's giving these women a chance at greatness and an opportunity to grow as individuals. This is only one of the most likely hundreds of contradictions in the modelling world; you're told to be an individual, but to have your flaws nit-picked in public, as if there's no element of privacy at all, and to be told what to eat, what to weigh, and how to go about being liked in an industry dominated by ego, greed, and narcissism, it sounds like the gospel that preaches against human individuality.
The film features arguably one of the strangest, yet most soothing cinematographic elements in quite sometime. The entire film seems to encapsulate or mirror a dream sequence, with very glossy atmosphere, smoothly gray and faint images, and many, many scenes with very simple yet very divine direction.
However, this soft approach not only affects the film's look but the film's approach to the subject matter. In seventy eight minutes, Girl Model is a fine documentary, but it lacks examination on the larger scale issue at hand here and takes the passive, almost constructive criticism tactic on the modelling industry. It remains too safe, and has numerous times where anger and emotional weight could be applied, but cops out in favor of a more calm, controlled direction. Perhaps viewers would rather watch a calm, controlled look on the modelling industry, but I occasionally felt restless and a little unmoved when the film clearly could've invited social criticism into play, but unfortunately, took the safer, more emotionally sustained route.
Starring: Nadya Vall. Directed by: David Redmon and Ashley Sabin.
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