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'Girl Model' documents trafficking of wannabe models: review

September 13, 2012|By Sheri Linden
  • A scene from "Girl Model."
A scene from "Girl Model." (First Run Features )

Documentarians David Redmon and Ashley Sabin have pieced together an eye-opening account of a form of human trafficking: an industry that sends pubescent European girls to Asia as wannabe models, offering meaningless contracts and no accountability.

As an indictment of 'an unscrupulous business, "Girl Model" is more impressionistic than investigative. The nonaggressive approach can be frustrating, but it nonetheless gets under the skin-deep promises of glamour and wealth that lure a seemingly endless stream of very young hopefuls.

At the center of the film are two participants in the Russia-to-Japan exchange: 13-year-old Siberian Nadya and 30-ish Ashley, the American scout who plucks her from a cattle call of bikini-clad teens. Ashley specializes in finding models for the Japanese market, with its particular fetish for youth.

The directors include brief scenes of the agency owners who Ashley freelances for in Siberia and Tokyo: One calls his devotion to the girls' welfare "a religious matter," the other is named Messiah. Much of the running time, though, belongs to go-between Ashley, a former model who repeatedly articulates her ambivalence toward the business while serving as its shill.

While Nadya makes the casting rounds, landing none of the "guaranteed" work and racking up debt, Ashley points out the drawbacks of owning a glass house, discusses the crossover between modeling and prostitution and, most frightening, confesses her desire to have a baby.

Statistical evidence could have strengthened the film's anecdotal argument. But in Nadya's anticipation and Ashley's depressive, disingenuous soul searching, "Girl Model" captures something beyond hard facts: portraits of delusion, innocent and practiced.

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"Girl Model." No MPAA rating; in English and Russian and Japanese with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 17 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.

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