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There’s no shortage of stories about young people with big dreams who chase them to the edge only to find heartache. That goes for all levels of entertainment and sports. Here, it is modeling, a world that is famously ferocious, and The Model makes no qualms about what that industry can do to those naive enough to become trapped in its steely machinations.
It tells the story of Emma (Maria Palm), a very young, leggy, sultry Danish girl who moves to Paris in hopes of being discovered. On her own, the little ingenue stumbles at every step, arriving late and losing her way. Her reputation begins badly and doesn’t improve. Her agent (Marcel (Virgile Bramly) finds her a place with another, a Polish model named Zofia (Charlotte Tomaszewska), already scarred by her own experience, cynical and jealous. The landlord is also sleazy.
On her first gig, Emma models for professional photographer Shane White (Ed Skrein), a moody but charming man who fires her almost immediately for being too tense, bringing her to tears in front of the watching crew. With a do-or-die desperation, and told she should go home, Emma later makes a fateful choice and seduces White, a ploy that immediately begins to turn it all around, getting a solid footing in the business while landing several high profile shoots and a magazine cover.
This all seems to put Emma on the right path for her real dream of walking the Catwalk for Chanel, though when her past catches up with her, she makes a series of bad choices and the spiral starts, leaving her alone but obsessed with Shane. This leads to even worse decisions. And of course, Emma still has a secret that makes that relationship not just inappropriate but disturbing.
Directed by Mads Matthiesen, The Model never tries to paint the industry in any kind of favorable light, though admittedly there is less attention paid to the actual details of modeling than simply having Emma be the vehicle that travels briefly through it. Matthiesen and Palm are careful not to portray Emma in too simple terms, making her so obviously prey as to feel manipulative. She carries her own set of teeth as it were, but she is clearly not ready or suited for the larger hunt. It’s very compelling and the dark, voyeuristic approach is meant to leave the viewer a bit uncomfortable. It’s no coincidence that the most revealing moments of Emma, both physically and mentally are the frequent scenes of the girl in her shower.
Palm, who is not a professional model, is burdened with having to break the myths and stereotypes of the ‘supermodel’ persona while still embodying much of those attributes. We are meant to feel sympathy for not just her, but any of the young girls who try to be discovered. Mostly, we do, but to be sure, Emma is a character that is corrupted by many of her own choices, being far too young and inexperienced to understand the implications and consequences of her actions, even though some feel avoidable and some as if she really doesn’t understand the most basic urges of human nature. Still, Palm is strikingly good in the role, her tough exterior always a fragile brittle shell that grows a web of cracks with every encounter.
Skrein is also good, though his character lacks the depth needed to truly side with his motivations. His introduction sets him up as one thing and he evolves into another, but while Skrein is convincing, Shane White is a bit of a blank and is left to tick off the boxes of the traits we expect in order to keep tragic Emma’s story moving forward.
The Model is never a ‘pretty’ picture, as intended, and the moody, seedy lends the film a heaviness that can wear thin, but Palm’s vulnerable performance and Matthiesen’s solid direction, make this an engrossing, emotional experience that haunts well after it’s over.
Director: Mads Matthiesen
Writers: Anders Frithiof August, Mads Matthiesen
Stars: Maria Palm, Ed Skrein, Yvonnick Muller