‘The Model’: Film Review

Carole Bethuel
Good-looking, but not much more.
8/12/2016

Danish director Mads Matthiesen’s stylish feature is set in the world of European high fashion.

The high-pressure world of elite fashion modeling comes crashing down around an inexperienced young woman in The Model, an intense psychological drama that enticingly feints toward obsessive thriller before settling into a cautionary character study. Audiences accustomed to the glamour of high-fashion reality TV shows may find the film’s somber tone an adjustment, but the familiarity of the material should make it accessible in a wide variety of markets.

Danish model Maria Palm plays Emma, who leaves behind her family and loving but insecure boyfriend and relocates to Paris to work for a high-end modeling agency. She rents a shared room from creepy, middle-aged bachelor Bernard (Thierry Hancisse) and earns instant cred with her undermining Polish roommate Zofia (Charlotte Tomaszewska), who’s already been modeling for some time, when she books a job with famed British haute-couture photographer Shane White (Ed Skrein). It’s an incredible opportunity, but Emma isn’t prepared for the pressure of the shoot, failing to heed Shane’s dictatorial creative guidance and getting sent home in disgrace.

Her manager Marcel (Virgile Bramly) chastises Emma to remain focused and follow instructions, but she takes matters into her own hands when she runs into Shane at an exclusive nightclub. Her assertive approach sparks irresistible attraction and as the pair begin a passionate affair, Shane requests Emma more frequently for exclusive shoots with Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel and other high-fashion magazines. Emma’s inexperience continues to betray her, however, particularly when she’s victimized by conniving colleagues and predatory professionals throughout the Paris fashion scene. A major transgression leads to a blowup with Shane, sending Emma into a personal and professional tailspin with no clear options to resolve her escalating psychological and emotional crisis. 

Matthiesen and co-writers Martin Zandvliet and Anders Frithiof August display a very specific perspective on high-end modeling that fits with a certain current cultural narrative, fueled primarily by media accounts of alleged exploitation and abuse in the industry. It’s not clear, however, whether they consider Emma’s experience an extreme case, although the frequent humiliations she suffers suggest that the character is more of a composite.

Palm, who is managed by the Elite agency and has shot for Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel and Vogue, handles the onscreen indignities with grace, gradually revealing the depths of Maria’s desperation without too much overemoting. Skrein (Deadpool, Game of Thrones), on the other hand, plays Shane as perhaps too reserved, withholding emotional reactions even when they’re more than appropriate. From a stylistic standpoint, Matthiesen constructs an interesting interplay of voyeuristic perspectives, as Shane photographs Emma and Emma obsesses over Shane while the audience observes the messy deterioration of their relationship.

Plot developments that hint at an emerging thriller by suggesting that Emma is becoming dangerously obsessive about her relationship with the sought-after photographer fizzle out too quickly, leaving the narrative to rely on Palm’s relative inexperience as it plumbs the depths of Emma’s despair. Fans of Matthiesen’s low-budget debut feature Teddy Bear, winner of the 2012 Sundance World Cinema directing award, may miss that film’s gentle humor and low-key charm, here replaced by high-strung drama and glitzy posturing.

Distributor: Brainstorm Media
Production company: Zentropa Entertainments10                                                                                     
Cast: Ed Skrein, Maria Palm, Charlotte Tomaszewska, Virgile Bramly, Thierry Hancisse
Director: Mads Matthiesen
Screenwriters: Mads Matthiesen, Martin Zandvliet, Anders Frithiof August
Producer: Jonas Bagger
Executive producers: Marie Gade Denessen, Louise Vesth
Director of photography: Petrus Sjovik
Production designer: Emma Pucci
Costume designer: Stine Thaning 
Editor: Pernille Bech Christensen
Music: Sune Martin

Not rated, 105 minutes

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