Although the title of directors David Redmon and Ashley Sabin's dual portrait of two players in the underage-modeling world might suggest an industry smackdown in the familiar mode of high-documentary dudgeon, Girl Model proves unsettling in any but the usual ways. Redmon and Sabin don't need statistics and cautionary talking heads to support a case against sending impoverished 13-year-old girls across the world to be exploited by fashion grotesques without the protection of a guardian, much less a developed sense of self. They opt instead for a story well told and let the other stuff tell itself. That story begins in small-town Siberia, where dozens of pale, pubescent girls align in bikinis, part of a model "casting" they hope will change their lives or, in the case of an elongated blonde named Nadya, build her family a home. Presiding over this casual degradation is Ashley, a self-loathing former model and current Japanese agency scout. Nadya is sent to Tokyo, where countless indifferences await her; Ashley mourns her tenure in a baffling hall of refracted beauty ideals. The radiant sadness of its two subjects—one a soulfully impassive stripling, one a symmetrical husk—forms the center of Girl Model, and that is enough.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.