“I need you to be real bitches on this one”
In the Danish thriller drama The Model (2016), director Mads Matthiesen takes a nosedive into the generally glamourised world of high fashion and modelling, only to tear it to shreds – revealing the grey bleakness lurking beneath.
Emma (Maria Palm) is a young girl starting out in the fashion industry, for which she abandons Denmark in favour of Paris. Her home country isn’t the only thing to get left behind. Aside from her family, which she keeps in the dark about the grim reality she has entered, there is her boyfriend, Frederick (Marco Ilsø), who gets shoved to the side because of his warmth and naivety – which is no longer a part of her world. When she meets brusque photographer Shane (Ed Skrein), her dismay turns to attraction, which quickly swivels out of control. In the end, friends become enemies, and loneliness starts to don many faces.
The main element we take away from this film is the thumping hollowness resulting from the model’s isolation, both from the outside world and her own free will. Grinning faces appear malicious, grotesque. We are sealed within the grey, unsteady core of a beautiful exterior. To add to the nausea and discomfort, most of the film is filmed using a hand-held camera, which plunges the screen into quivering earthquakes. The drab of the walls and ragged clothes matches the ashen spirits of the characters, consuming their scruples.
In fact, the film seems to be a representation of the slow, silent deterioration of an unsettled mind. Most scenes lack any music whatsoever, stripping them raw -until we’re left oversensitive. As a result, most events carry an air of insufferable awkwardness, which seems to come and go like the tide. The rest of the clips burst to life with music by Sune Martin, allowing us to take a breath between scenes of choking queasiness. Much of the discomfort we feel is due to the portagonist’s ineptness, which often blurs the lines between her own dubious decisions, and the poison seeping in from the environment she finds herself in.
The models are reminiscent of gladiators – admired for their physiques and treated like playthings by the rich and influential. The air is thick with something sinister, brought in by the dehumanised individuals walking in and out of bare rooms. It’s like eating off the edge of a knife, never knowing when the cut is going to come. Despite the putrid setting, it’s hard to sympathise with the female lead, simply because of her mischievous dishonesty. We learn that Emma is hiding a secret that propels matters to the next level of warped propriety, pushing others to the edge of their composure.
In the end, it’s hard to tell if Maria Palm’s acting is stiff, or whether it was intentionally done this way to make her appear more unnerved. What is absolutely certain, however, is that the supporting cast is not used to being in front of the camera. Maybe because everyone is forced to speak English. Even Ed Skrein, quite convincing for the most part, struggles at times. Even so, when you line him up with the rest, he most definitely shines the brightest.
This is the kind of film that puts things back into perspective, making us weep with gratitude for leading largely normal, sane lives. It includes many questionable scenes, and one actual rape scene, which shocks with its brutal repulsion. It’s piled on top of gore, vengeance, obsession and mania. Generally, quite gloomy. However, the ending is left a little open, forcing us to guess whether the protagonist has learned from her experiences, or not. All in all, a memorable watch.
Amazon, Chili, Netflix