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A Pretty Illusion

The fascinating first scene in the film Girl Model (2012) compells the audience straigt away. Young girls, lightly dressed, stand next to each other, are photographed and elected. One of them is the thirteen-year-old Nadya – childlike, big eyes, thin – too thin for her height. She is chosen to work in Tokyo for the former model Ashley, who is a model scout now. Nadyas childlike innocence represents an extraordinary ideal of beauty which the Sibirian agency wants to place on the market. The agencies promise 8000 Dollars per job for the impoverished families as well as to promote the work of a model in the whole world. But what remains in the end is something far from promises of fame and wealth.

"Girl Model", DOK Leipzig
“Girl Model”, DOK Leipzig

Nadya is sent to Japan on her own, where she has to find her agency without knowing a word of Japanese or English. In between – interviews with the model scout Ashley who talks about her own time in Japan, sometimes showing videos she made herself during the beginning of her career. While listening to Ashleys comments about the fashion and model industry she emantes hate-filled view on the industry she works in but will never leave. There is just too much money hidden in the inexperienced young girls. Meanwhile Nadya and Madlen, a same-aged colleague, are housed in a small, shabby flat, from where they run from casting to casting. Photos are taken, contact details swapped, flyers showing their faces distributed – but they never see any money for their work.

Nadya hasn’t been eating for some days now, because she just doesn’t have the money for it. She bursts out into tears when she listens to the voice of her mother on the telephone for the first time. And as she eats, her debts grow. On the contrary, we see Ashley in her huge appartment, where she lives with her two baby dolls. She shows us photos of parts of some models bodies that she took secretly. She talks about the fact that it is not unusual to work as a prostitute in order to achieve success. Apparently, her work has made her sick, because her restless eyes and the smile on her face don’t fit together. She tells the camera that she acutally cares about the girls, which is hard to believe. Just before she visits Nadya and Madlen the two young girls try to free themselves from their dubious model contract by eating sweets. This contract states that they will be sent home if they gain just one centimetre in their measures. When Ashley arrives, her good mood turns ice-cold. The two young models make her feel their frustration. The viewer hears shocking answers when Ashley talks to a colleague about a way to tame confident young girls…

Nadya is sent home shortly after Madlen, because she doesn’t get jobs. Just one photo of her was published, one that only shows her mouth. Since she didn’t receive any money for it, the only thing she takes home with her are debts and the insight, that she isn’t the same person anymore. She is, however, now trapped in a vicious circle. How can she support her family if not as a model?

Girl Model is a documentary that compells the audience with shocking images and well-timed confrontations of the lives of Ashley and Nadya. From the outside the life as a model appears to be a dream, but this film shows the extact opposite because even if you achieve success in the business, the unpleasant experiences stay with you. The directors David Redmon and Ashley Sabin managed to destroy the pretty illusion of the job as a model already in the first scences. An absolutely recommandable film!


You can find an interview with the curator of Bodycheck published by the DOK Spotters here.

This is the website of the film.

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