Using the voyeurism of cinema as a medium for the superficiality of the fashion world, Mads Matthiesen’s latest film The Model stares down the cold and unblinking camera lens at the notoriously harsh industry. Focusing on body image, the film does nothing to glamorise the lifestyles of those working within high fashion, examining the mind-set of someone whose purpose is to always look beautiful, yet silent and obedient, as well as the consequences of enduring such mental and physical pressure.
The film opens with shots of Parisian backstreets at daybreak, marking the beginning of titular model Emma’s career in this coming of age drama. Emma is ably portrayed by Danish model Maria Palm – who has an impressive resume, including British Vogue and L’Officiel Magazine, which she uses to her advantage during the fashion shoot scenes, adding an air of authenticity, as well as conveying both a doe like gentility and siren-esque ferocity in her facial expressions. However, as Emma’s career progresses along with her relationship with well-known fashion photographer Shane (Ed Skrein), she becomes a more complex character than the bland, naïve wallflower whom we observe looking for her big break at the film’s beginning. The romance and drama of the first half then takes a sinister shift towards thriller as Emma becomes more and more mentally unhinged, her jealously and desire for success driving her towards violence.
The film deals with the notion of voyeurism very well, focusing on the directed sexualisation of the models during the photo sessions by the photographers and contrasting it against Emma’s landlord, who secretly watches her shower. The comparison between the consensual focus on her body during the photo shoots and the non-consensual attention of the landlord highlights the invasive nature of modelling as Emma, upon realising, ultimately allows her landlord to persist in taking advantage of her. This comparison is then emphasised in the rape scene which, while not overtly graphic, is incredibly unpleasant and nauseating, the camera remaining static in one horrifically long take. This final act of male dominance over Emma’s body showcases the film’s stance on the industry, acting as a microcosm for high fashion’s seduction, manipulation and corruption of the young and innocent.
As with most films which deal with the fashion industry, the costumes are lavish, the sets are extravagant (specifically the castle scenes in Warsaw) and the locations iconic, with the Eiffel Tower making two or three sneaky appearances. However, contrasting with these luxurious settings, such as Shane’s spacious and coolly decorated apartment, is Emma’s own claustrophobic bedroom, which she must share with fellow model Zofia (Charlotte Tomaszewiska). Here, Matthiesen is again delivering an authentic portrayal of the lifestyle of a budding model, highlighting the lack of glamor and developing a realism which is key to the film’s thriller genre. The profligate settings are also contrasted against the opening and end shots of empty Parisian backstreets, dimly lit with a greyish morning glow and faint sounds of traffic in the distance, again highlighting the superficiality of the industry.
An uncommon but justifiable take on the fashion industry, The Model is frightening in its realism, portraying a relatable story of corrupted innocence in the search for success. Watching the drama unfold it is easy to imagine the countless youths who have fallen prey to the industry, superficially selling their image and losing a part of themselves in the process. While the film may drag in some places, as too much time is spent on Emma and Shane’s relationship without developing his character, Matthiesen’s portrayal of unique beauty, voyeurism and the seductive yet corruptive appeal of high fashion is worthwhile, if unpleasant, watching in some scenes.