Film Review: The Model

Highly recommended to anti-fashionistas, for its unblinking look at the stench beneath the couture.
Specialty Releases

Achingly young and green Emma (Maria Palm) arrives in Paris to pursue a modeling career. A failure at first due to her inexperience with the terrifyingly instant intimacy and egomaniacal toxicity of this most outwardly lovely of professions, she finds her footing and favor with hotshot photographer Shane (Ed Skrein), with whom she has a torrid affair. But things go south when he proves to be yet another stylish yet voracious sex hound. Emma turns into her own worst nightmare, which begins with her callous mistreatment of Fredrik (Marco Ilso), the adoring boyfriend she left behind, who inconveniently shows up at her flat.

With The Model, director and co-writer Mads Matthiesen really lifts the veil on the darker side of the business I once referred to as "beautiful poison”—i.e., everything gorgeous on the surface and rotten beneath. For all the pleasure it offers, fashion can be a sullen, malignant magnet attracting the young, idealistic and beautiful, then using them and throwing them away like soiled tissues. If Matthiesen’s film, obviously made on a limited budget, lacks the visual dazzle of more celebratory looks at this profession like Funny Face or even Robert Altman's perversely waggish Ready to Wear, it effectively parallels Irvin Kershner's underrated The Eyes of Laura Mars, with its bleaker, more hardcore vision. It's a smoothly made study of cruelty—both professional and personal—that is absorbing, even though it leaves the viewer somewhat cold.

This is most likely due to Palm, who, although a model herself, is never quite able to truly make you empathize with her existentially lonely plight in the midst of all that glitters. There's no doubting her acting proficiency and she certainly doesn't come a cropper as did other mannequins-turned-actresses like Ingrid Boulting (The Last Tycoon), Ariane Koizumi (Year of the Dragon) or, more famously, Suzy Parker and Ali MacGraw, but there is an essential chilliness which, matched with her slightly alien—although ever so popular in the biz—look, keeps you at arm's distance, even when she's being raked over the coals by the inhuman narcissism surrounding her. One can't help but imagine how a younger Natalie Portman or even Audrey Hepburn herself might have torn at your heartstrings.

Although his role is relatively small, Ilso provides some required, devastating emotional value with his heartbreaking turn as her inconvenient lover from a former, more innocent life. It's a truly archetypal role, this boyfriend, ignorant of the fact that his shelf life has expired, who finds himself adrift in a harsh, acridly pretty world, and Ilso brings the pain.

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