Exploited 13-year-old Russians strut in GIRL MODEL, at Toronto Film Fest

Despite a lack of obvious similarities between Siberia and Tokyo, a thriving model industry connects these distant regions. Currently playing at the Toronto International Film Festival, GIRL MODEL (directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin), follows two protagonists involved in this industry: Ashley, a deeply ambivalent model scout who scours the Siberian countryside looking for fresh faces to send to the Japanese market, and one of her discoveries, Nadya, a thirteen year-old plucked from the Siberian countryside and dropped into the center of Tokyo with promises of a profitable career. After Ashley’s initial discovery of Nadya, the two rarely meet again, but their stories are inextricably bound. As Nadya’s optimism about rescuing her family from their financial difficulties grows, her dreams contrast against Ashley’s more jaded outlook about the industry’s corrosive influence.

Variety applauds the “gritty verite drama,” especially its “knotty, psychological profile of [Ashley] Arbaugh, whose own video-diary entries from the mid’-90s – when she was modeling – provide a haunted glimpse into exploited youth. A visit to Arbaugh’s home in Connecticut, a spacious, rambling modernist dwelling with all the warmth of a bus station, is a creepfest: A pair of baby dolls sit upright on the couch in a living room devoid of almost all other decor. Arbaugh comments that she thought it was appropriate when she bought the house to buy the dolls, too. She has an overt desire for children and an apparent inability to have them; her need is palpable and pitiful, and the doll sequence has the mind reeling.”

If you’re not creeped out yet, watch the trailer, and imagine that right now, in some badly lit room in Siberia, a group of ”Russian girls hoping to hit the big time, are parading their skinny innocence around in bargain-basement bathing suits.”