Girl Model is a movie that completely sneaks up on you. It at first seems like a fairly mousy documentary. It builds slowly, like the room is getting colder and colder—this is you, being drawn into the subzero, subhuman world of the movie. All at once, finally, in a single shot where a central deception is revealed, the movie rears up, bites, and is full of venom. It was a thriller.
Girl Model is not just, as its title implies, about preteen modeling, which would be creepy enough. Instead, it's about the indentured servitude of Siberian girls at the hands of people who are either self-congratulatory or dead inside—and who are not too ashamed to talk on camera because there's really no single place to lay blame, anyway. Girl Model makes the situation as big and global as it is. The whole way of the commercialized world appears as monstrous as a freshly removed ovarian cyst resembling a halved roasted tomato sprouting a mass of blond hair where the seeds and goop should be.
The cyst, captured in a post-surgery photograph, is a real thing that appears in Girl Model. The cyst—a perfect emblem for the movie—belongs to Ashley, a chilling creature worthy of Dickens. She's a twentysomething model-turned-model-scout with whom you can't help but sympathize because she admits that "the industry" screwed her up. She knows that she and her blond cyst baby are the waste products of the industry. That doesn't stop her from being a raging narcissist. (There are shades of Dorian Gray.) With the money she makes anointing girls to be removed from their impoverished families and sent to foreign countries where they will starve while haunting the newsstands searching for the pictures of their faces that have been stolen without compensation, Ashley buys a glass house in Connecticut. She lives there with two naked baby dolls, a girl and a boy, bought at the same time as the house since they seemed like a set. She originally had a third baby doll, "But I dissected it."
Ashley's inverse is Nadya, the moon-eyed 13-year-old budding model from a Siberian village. The scene where these two women actually attempt a conversation (in Tokyo) is one of the most uncomfortable ever committed to film. It is brief, since even they seem to understand implicitly that the world would explode if they actually began to communicate or work together. The dynamite of unspoken subtext is that modeling is prostitution is slavery, and not metaphorically, but actually ("It's just normal to be a prostitute, for them," Ashley says, following up with "I don't really acknowledge that it exists"). In pulling the curtain back only slightly, the directors dare you to try forgetting what you've seen.