What You Missed
In Siberia, teenagers flock to a modeling casting call. They all dream of a contract and a ticket to Tokyo.
Ashley Arbaugh, a model scout, is searching for young, "fresh," malleable girls to send to Japan. She finds one: an ethereal 13-year-old from a small village named Nadya Vall. The contract promises Nadya two modeling jobs and at least $8000, so her parents, who aren't well off, agree to send her off on her own.
No one meets Nadya at the Tokyo airport. She speaks no Japanese or English. When she finally makes her way to her housing, she discovers she's already in debt to her employer, who will put her on a plane back to Russia if her waist expands by a single centimeter.
Filmmakers David Redmon and Ashley Sabin follow Nadya as she tries to navigate the cold metropolis, then return to Arbaugh — back in the U.S. — who has harsh words for her own profession.
Why You Missed It
Girl Model played at last fall's Vermont International Film Festival, but not in our theaters. It's been shown on PBS and is available on Netflix Instant.
Should You Keep Missing It?
Girl Model is an intriguing and disturbing slice of life, if a narrow one. The directors don't attempt an overview or exposé of the international modeling industry. But what they do discover about the treatment of these young Siberian girls is creepy enough.
Ironically, it was Arbaugh who approached the filmmakers and pitched the idea (read more in this interview).
Why ironically? Because the scout, who's also an ex-model, is both the film's most fascinating character and its shadiest. Unlike the head of the Russian modeling agency, who paints himself as the savior of these girls, Arbaugh is conflicted. She realizes that modeling can often be an avenue to prostitution, but that doesn't stop her from recruiting the girls and washing her hands of them later. We see her telling the models' parents things Nadya's story baldly contradicts.
Yet, self-aware as she is, Arbaugh doesn't quit. In scenes shot in her glass house (yes, really) in Connecticut, she comes off as downright strange, pointing out the plastic baby dolls she bought so she'd be able to give her house the requisite "children."
Maybe Arbaugh is something of a filmmaker/artist manqué — she comes off as almost too eager to expose her life and profession to the filmmakers, but her precise agenda is never clear.
Ironically again, the one who has objected to her portrayal in the documentary is Nadya, who's still trying to make a career in modeling. Granted, she has not seen the film.
Verdict: It's not news that pretty girls from poor countries are easily exploited, but Girl Model gives that exploitation a human face.
When you look at the haughty, idealized sirens in magazines, consider that some of them might be scared kids who won't see a penny from their labor. The filmmakers have partnered with the Model Alliance on a campaign to give young models in New York state more legal rights.
This Week in Theaters
A Band Called Death finally reaches Vermont: Catch it this week at Essex Cinemas. My review is here.
Giant robots vs. aliens in Pacific Rim. Adam Sandler goofs off with his buddies in Grown Ups 2. At the Savoy, backup singers get their due in the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom — which is considerably less than the distance I hope to stay from Grown Ups 2.
This Week on Video
Admission, Dead Man Down, The Gatekeepers, The Host, Spring Breakers and Tyler Perry's Temptation.