Saturday, September 1, 2012

GIRL MODEL:David Redmon/Ashley Sabin's years-in-gestation doc hits theaters at last


When TrustMovies first met David Redmon, co-direc-tor/producer/editor and cinematog-rapher (with Ashley Sabin) of the new documentary GIRL MODEL, it was the summer of 2008 and -- even though the interview was primarily about their film Mardi Gras: Made in China, which was about to make its DVD debut -- the two were already hard at work on their upcoming movie about very young Russian girls, 13-15, who want to becomes models. At the time of our interview (for Greencine.com: you can read it here, with our talk about the upcoming Girl Model appearing on page two), it was clear that the film -- having to do with underage girls, "agents," photographers, and what sounded like a certain criminal element involved in the whole thing -- was a very tricky proposition. Before I sent the final interview to my editor, in fact, I had to delete certain portions for fear of getting the filmmakers or their subjects into trouble.

All this is by way of saying that the finished product, 77 minutes long, is perhaps the single most "gray area" documentary that I have yet seen. That the film-making duo has managed to make the film intelligible, meaningful and moving- -- given this necessity to fudge -- makes it all the more impressive.

Initially, at least according to what Redmon told me back in 2008, the film was to be about a former model from the U.S. (presumably Ashley Arbaugh, shown above) who now scouts new models -- girls 13-15 in rural Russia -- and brings them to Brooklyn, New York. As Redmon put it at the time, "She recruits these models, and they'll come over and stay in the Brooklyn location under the guidance of a man who is one of her business partners." That's our sort-of lead-ing lady, a young woman named Nadya (from Siberia) shown below.

Well, as the movie now has it, these girls don't come to the U.S. at all but head instead for Japan, where the scout and her crew -- a fellow who goes by the name of Messiah (make of that what you will) uses and abuses them, dishonoring their initial contract (under which they are supposed to be paid, whether or not they find work in Japan), leaving them in horrendous debt by the time they arrive back home. In order to pay this debt off, they return to Japan and maybe model -- but more likely serve as prostitutes.  Nice, huh? Oh, well, think of it as just another nasty piece of the globalization puzzle.

In Japan, where nothing works put as expected, we meet that mess of a Messiah (whom you really do want to see dead by film's end) and another young girl (above, left), who ends up as Nadya's slightly more aware roommate in Tokyo.

Early on, we meet Nadya's family: her mom (above, left), dad, and grandmother (below, right). Dad is planning on enlarging the house from the money that young Nadya will soon be earning. Good luck.

We also meet the Russian man -- Tigran, I think, is his name -- who is seemingly one of the "bosses" of the whole operation. His little rant about all the good he is doing for Russia and for these girls in particular should make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. By the finale, when prostitution has been mentioned in passing, you'll understand more about that "good" -- and for whom it is meant.

And through everything, we have our scout, Ashley, looking pretty forlorn, as well as she should, given what she earns her living doing. (It's a pretty good living, too: she can afford a very nice house in Connecticut.) I don't know that we ever once see this woman smile genuinely. If "karma" exists, however, she does get her comeuppance -- though the late Susan Sontag (Illness as Metaphor) would never agree.

Nothing, however, is stated here. The filmmakers generally keep themselves quite out of the way. (Only once, I think, do we hear David Redmond's name mentioned.) Even the rare questions to any of the principals are politely put and never insisted upon. All is suggested, and that, but barely. Yet Redmon and Sabin capture enough telling moments -- our girl, limping across a street in her high heels -- to score their points and still keep everything as "gray" as possible.

This is the kind of movie which, after viewing you'll want to shower, douche (if appropriate) and gargle with some heavy-duty mouthwash.  Girl Model, from First Run Features, opens Wednesday, September 5, in New York City at the IFC Center. It'll be opening in the weeks and months to come in another dozen cities, as well. Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates.

All photo are from the film, except for 
that of Redmon and Sabin, 
which comes courtesy of Vogue, Italy.

2 comments:

this world said...

horrible disgusting evil way to make a living and forcing girls to live in hell

James van Maanen said...

I have to agree with you, "this world." GIRL MODEL probably leaves the worst after-taste of any movie to open in the past year (or several). There ought to be a law -- an international law....