MIFF 2012: Reviews of Girl Model, Call Me Kuchu and The Angels’ Share
Welcome to day ten of my coverage of the Melbourne International Film Festival. You can read previous entries here: Day One / Day Two / Day Three/ Day Four / Day Five / Day Six / Day Seven/ Day Eight / Day Nine. Enjoy.
This infuriating documentary chronicles the teenage modelling industry. The results are depressing and seething. Girl Model shows, in unflinching detail, the vast discrepancy between the notion of modelling fame and its banal, exploitative reality.
Girl Model follows American modelling scout (and ex-model) Ashley Arbaugh as she secures young girls for the Japanese modelling market. Ashley’s instructions are clear: the younger, the thinner, the better. The film’s principal subject is Nadya, a 13 year-old Siberian girl who is hand picked by Ashley. Nadya is promised money and international fame, but what greets her in Japan is far from what she was promised.
This is a slow burning film. It starts off relatively banal, but by the end it is red hot in its provocation. While not immediately apparent, the people in this variation of the modelling industry are scum of the highest order. ‘Talent scout’ (quotes intended) Ashley is less of a person and more a collection of mental deficiencies. She is alarmingly narcissistic and a borderline sociopath, and by the end you realise the only thing she should be modelling is a straight jacket.
The film starts with Ashley and her (equally soulless) cohorts judging the local Siberian talent. The judges demonstrate a decided lack of interest. The girls are paraded like cattle and their barely pubescent bodies are critiqued with inhuman detachment. While this is disquieting, you ask yourself: Is this a necessary evil of this industry? They are judging beauty after all. We feel happy for Nadya when she is chosen. She is an unassuming child and it appears this ‘contract’ (marks again intended) will save her from a poor life in Siberia. After all, she is working for Noah models (yeah, named after the Ark).
Nadya’s treatment by these individuals is infuriating. She is dumped (unescorted) in Japan with another Russian teen and then dragged to castings where revolting Japanese ‘clients’ decide if she is young or skinny enough. Half of this film plays like the Tower of Babel. Nadya doesn’t speak a lick of Japanese or English and she is meant to navigate castings and airports. While Nadya struggles abroad, we watch Ashley brag about her career, her possessions and her detachment from her work.
While the material is fantastic, this isn’t a fantastic documentary. It is visually drab and often too detached for its own good. Surprisingly, this isn’t a hatchet job – most of the subjects of Girl Model hang themselves. It’s a shame this film doesn’t have a more probing framework as you would love to see the voice of reason shake up proceedings. Girl Model does a good job of deglamourising an often exploitative industry and feels like it should be mandatory viewing for readers of Dolly magazine.
Call Me Kuchu
This documentary covers the shameful actions of Uganda against its homosexual population. Modern Uganda is a rancid cesspool of religious piety and inequality. Under the tutelage of its sanctimonious, moronic spiritual leaders, the Ugandan population pushes to outlaw homosexuality and vilify those who dare to be different. Led by the courageous David Kato, a small group of activists try to change Uganda’s archaic viewpoint and prove that they, too, are human.
A lot of this documentary plays like a horror film. If anyone had any doubts as to the insidious nature of organised religion, this would be a good place to start. For an overwhelmingly Christian nation (84%), the Uganda of Kuchu is a largely godless place. It is dismaying to see a country so united in hate. Watching ridiculous propaganda spread without question evokes memories of the holocaust.
Uganda’s homophobia isn’t just a religious folly, it permeates their journalism and politics. Directors Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall follow David as he tries to get a legal injunction against Uganda’s national paper ‘Rolling Stone’ (zero relation), which has been running a ‘name and shame’ campaign alongside headlines like ‘Hang the homos!’
Despite Kuchu’s oppressive material, this is quite an optimistic film. David’s activists don’t wallow in self pity – instead they try to use the proper channels to facilitate change. It is hugely cathartic to see Uganda’s politicians be vilified by the international community.
Kuchu has the rough digital look that accompanies many modern documentaries, but this is a film far less concerned with aesthetics than it is with injustice. This is an important doco that captures a modern travesty.
The Angels’ Share
This charming film from British cinema stalwart Ken Loach (Looking for Eric) is a strange mixture of feel good comedy and brutal social realism. Loach seems opposed to compromise, and so we have a touching comedy that features hooligan violence and every second character is called a ‘cunt’. Strangely enough, I imagine this film will be a longplayer amongst arthouse cinemas and will be well received by older cinema aficionados.
Share tells the story of Robbie (Paul Brannigan), a violent thug who has been sentenced to 300 hours community service. While fulfilling his sentence, Robbie becomes a father. Seeking to change his ways, Robbie strikes up a friendship with his kindly supervisor, Harry (John Henshaw). Harry introduces Robbie to the world of whiskey appreciation. Robbie is a natural and takes to his new hobby with fervour, but his interest — both as a connoisseur and a criminal — piques when he hears of a barrel of malt mill whiskey that may be worth over a 1 million pounds.
Share veers wildly between character-based comedy and violent reprisals. Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty explore Robbie’s violent nature with a savage realism; for every sweet scene in Share there is one that is equally brutal. Some scenes seem to come from a much harsher film, but it seems Loach wants to clearly demonstrate the retaliatory nature of thuggery.
Instead of turning us off, this mixture of tones and genres gives the lead actor, newcomer Paul Brannigan, a chance to show his versatility. Brannigan is phenomenal in this film; he adeptly demonstrates the inner turmoil that engulfs Robbie. Brannigan can go from sweet to hard without stumbling, and, despite his slight stature, we buy him as a hard man. He is supported by a wealth of Loach regulars (Gary Maitland, William Ruane) and the performances are natural and endearing.
Share is a great, engrossing film that is unpredictable in its trajectory. This film ends a million miles from where it begins, yet every detour is engaging. If I had to make a comparison, I’d say it is an unlikely pairing of Green Street Hooligans and Sideways.
Tomorrow’s films: Amour and Berberian Sound Studio