A Film a Week - The Model

When it comes to watching and rating movies, the question is not “what is it about?”, but “how is it about?”. Since most of the stories have been told before and are being re-told, the issue here is if there is at least a trace of originality and if it works at all. And that is the lesson which Danish filmmaker Mads Matthiesen, the decorated director of Sundance-awarded film Teddy Bear, will learn the hard way with his second feature The Model.

The titular character is Emma, played by a real-life model Maria Palm who comes from a Danish small town to Paris with her dream to walk the catwalk for Chanel during the Fashion Week. Aside of her dream, she has little: a shady agency representation and a room that she shares with another model named Zofia (also played by a real-life model, Charlotte Tomaszewska). She botches her first job, but when she meets Shane (British actor Ed Skrein stuck at some point on his way to stardom), the photographer who sent her home, this time in a more relaxed clubbing atmosphere, two of them start a relationship that propels her up in the business.

The problem with Emma is, however, that she is still a kid with no idea how things work in reality. Sure, she is good looking in the fashion business sense of the term and she seems mature, but her camera personality (self-confident on the verge of being bitchy) is just a facade. Once she makes a wrong move, she will become the victim of the cutthroat business fed by girls, but ruled by men and at the same time the intrigue other girls are using in their own fight for better position in the fashion world...

There are many films about competitive businesses of sorts. Sports, ballet, music business, movie business, finance, fashion, show-business, pornography, you name it. Also, the naïve newcomer as the protagonist and our viewpoint is a trope. Whiplash, Black Swan, Showgirls and many other films tell the same story. Heck, last year’s The Neon Demon by Nicolas Winding Refn even covers the same ground with the same morale behind it.

The problem with The Model is that Matthiesen’s film is a complete lackluster. It is badly written and riddled with clichés, shot in a wrong bluish palette which makes Paris as interesting as any no name city and directed in an unispiring manner. Sure, there is some voyeurism and a lot of (small) tits and asses to keep the enthusiasts’ eyes on the screen, and even some glimpse to the glamorous items of haute couture. But even when an interesting topic incidentally occurs, like the debate about the different standards of “pretty” and “weird” in the fashion and the everyday world, Matthiesen and his co-writers go around it to the next plot point.

There are hardly any nice touches in this drab and flat cautionary tale. The best thing is that the director took some risks casting a non-professional actress for the leading role and it payed off, since Maria Palm has that empty look of the confused newcomer. On the other hand, the same approach didn’t work for the under-developed Zofia because Charlotte Tomaszewska lacks the acting knowledge and experience to fill in the blanks and make her character compellingly manipulative. The other characters are just one-dimensional plot-drivers. Shane also, there is not a slightest hint why would Emma fall for him (well, aside of the actor’s movie star looks) as there is no clue is it a smart career move by her or just her plain naivety.

The problem is that we stopped caring a long time ago. About Emma, about any other character, about fashion, about business, about Paris, about The Model.

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