TIFF Review: Girl Model
I’ve seen more than a few documentaries, chronicling some pretty terrible things. Girl Model doesn’t really stack up to those in terms of raw emotional impact, but it is a fascinating film to watch just the same.
We see girls as young as 12 or 13 being taken advantage of, signing contracts in languages they can’t read, being shipped around the world and being treated poorly most of the time.
They are homesick, they call their mothers and cry, and say they want to go home, that they wish they’d never gone… But so do the girls on American Idol. It’s hard to feel sympathy for a girl who you later find out re-ups, multiple times, for additional trips.
Without a doubt these girls(most of them, anyway) are far to young to be doing this job, but in the grand scheme of injustices in the world, beautiful young girls who have to find out that the world of modeling isn’t as glamourous(or lucrative) as they had hoped ranks pretty low.
Those less cynical than I will no doubt feel for the girls, consider the atrocities visited upon them monstrous and cruel, and I certainly wouldn’t try to argue that this is not the case, simply that my personal (and limited) quantities of empathy don’t stretch as far as the girl models in this film.
Just the same, Girl Model is an absolutely intriguing film to watch. The narrative predominately follows a 13 year old girl named Nadya from her home in Siberia to Japan with hopes of becoming a model. Her family has high hopes for her as well, and they are already planning how to spend the money they hope she will make. Nadya’s story is a sad one, if perhaps not quite falling into the category of ‘tragic’ or even ‘terrible’, but it is the people around her that are truly interesting.
First among them is talent scout Ashley, a former model herself, who has no problem inflicting the hardships she encountered onto other girls. Ashley, in fact, comes across as a complete psychopath, fumbling to find the words to express just how much she doesn’t care about the girls (or anything else). We get to see Ashley as a teen model more than 10 years ago through her own video diaries which she supplied to the filmmakers, but get no glimpse into any kind of real identity beyond the lonelygirl13-type mask she chooses to show us, alternately laughing and crying for the camera with no real conviction.
If the foreign modeling industry is responsible for creating this monster, than that may be the truest indictment against it that we see in this film.
Another fascinating creature is Tygran, the jovial businessman running the modeling company that Ashley is scouting for. Tygran may or may not be completely full of shit, but I was not entirely unconvinced he didn’t believe what he was saying, and that he truly believed he was helping these girls, giving them a better life than they had in Siberia, or wherever. And in some cases, maybe he did. Nadya had a nice home and a seemingly loving family, but others may have seen the admittedly poor conditions in Japan as a vast improvement over what they were leaving behind.
It can certainly be seen how the industry could drive these teen girls to prostitution, as sexualizing a 12-year old girl the way they do(especially for the Japanese market) can have untold effects on a budding young psyche. In a rare moment of lucidity, Ashley even muses on how to a girl that young, alone in a foreign place, selling your body to a rich businessman for a great deal of money might seem like the natural progression of selling your body to a camera for next to nothing. Of course she then adds that in many cultures, prostitution isn’t considered a bad thing at all, and that perhaps it IS easier than modeling.
The fact that Ashley, herself, petitioned the filmmakers with the idea for the documentary shows just how much she, and all the others in the movie perfectly willing to be filmed, have no idea that there is anything wrong with what they are doing… but then, since we keep buying the magazines and watching America’s Next Top Model, maybe we don’t think so either.