As unaffected and fat-free as the would-be superstars it profiles, the intrepid “Girl Model” gets inside the virtual human trafficking of beautiful young Russians into the netherworld of the Japanese modeling market, tracking one young blonde Siberian’s experience from breathless hopeful to damaged dreamer. Broadcast on PBS is assured, but the vaguely salacious nature of the story and the tenacity of the directors could help further advance a docu that manages to balance guileless objectivity with a very determined point of view.
Using no narration and limited titles, helmers David Redmon and Ashley Sabin open their gritty verite drama with a fantastically bleak shot overlooking the Siberian city where the story begins, and then move inside where it’s warm — a modeling meat-market that draws hundreds of young Russian girls hoping to hit the big time, parading their skinny innocence around in bargain-basement bathing suits. They all dream of being chosen to go to Japan, where work is guaranteed and a bright future is promised, both of which, not unexpectedly, turn out to be figments. But while Sabin and Redmon never actually expose anything — the slippery male characters they interview reveal little that’s overtly illicit, not even their perpetual pipeline into impoverished Russian youth — it doesn’t take a sommelier to detect the piquant bouquet of arch criminality.
The girl at the center of “Girl Model” is 13-year-old Nadya Vall, a willowy candidate whose childlike looks make her a shoo-in for the youth-obsessed Japanese market and whose consequent travails are chronicled by Sabin and Redmon, from Siberia to Tokyo and a series of misadventures that seem built into the system. But where Vall is the picture of innocence and aspiration, ex-model Ashley Arbaugh is something else. The film’s most intriguing and enigmatic character, Arbaugh now wrangles young girls for the Russian agency run by a shady customer named Tigran, and his Japanese counterpart, known as “Messiah” (a mogul who “really likes models,” as Arbaugh says, in the film’s most loaded moment).
Language:Russian, Japanese, English