No Comments on MODELS

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian) Deutsch (German)

by Ulrich Seidl

grade: 8.5

It is impossible to remain indifferent after watching Models (as after watching every other work by Ulrich Seidl). And this is exactly what the director wants: to hit, to shock, to enrapture the audience without fear of hurting them.

Being and appearance

Often, in the vast filmography of Austrian director Ulrich Seidl, women have been placed in the foreground. This was the case, just to give an example, in the recent trilogy comprising Paradise: Love (2019), Paradise: Faith (2012) and Paradise: Hope (2013), as well as several years earlier in Models, his sixth feature film made in 1998 and re-proposed, within the section dedicated to women, Weiblichkeiten, at the Diagonale 2019.

Thus, while the director has always staged contemporary society, highlighting its flaws and condemning that sort of latent fascism that the exponents of the Social Theatre before him had already written about, in Models the female figure – and, specifically, the character of Vivian, who, together with her colleagues Lisa and Tanja, dreams of a modelling career – is staged almost as a sacrificial victim. Her executioner is, as often happens, society itself, in which appearance – rather than being – is considered fundamental in order to be accepted and to feel fulfilled.

This is an issue that is more topical than ever, considering that nowadays, social networks have allowed exhibitionism and the desire to play a role to come to the forefront in all of us. But Seidl, as we know, has always had an eye for identifying – and staging – issues that are so topical as to be universal.

Back to us, particularly interesting in Models is the approach the director has adopted in telling us the stories of the models. The mise-en-scène itself, as has already happened in numerous works by the Austrian author, including the aforementioned Paradise trilogy, is halfway between fiction and documentary, with a camera that follows the lives of the young protagonists step by step in their daily routine. To the point of making us wonder where the boundary between fiction and reality actually lies. If there really is a definite boundary.

In Models, therefore, we (re)find an Ulrich Seidl with a less pronounced aesthetic than in his last works, but who, while opting for most of the feature film for a direction that as far as possible follows Zavattini’s rules, often offers us images that are well framed in a picture that reflects the usual symmetry and immobility so appreciated by the author and which, precisely because of their form, strongly contrast with the inner (and, in this case, also outer) anxiety of the characters.

The camera, therefore, immediately becomes the girls’ trusted confidant, playing now the role of a mirror (when we see, for example, the numerous scenes in which the models apply make-up or simply mirror themselves, be they in their bedrooms or in the bathrooms of a nightclub) or as a silent and obsequious observer, especially when we see Vivian in the bathroom of her house vomiting after a bulimic attack or talking to her boyfriend about her (many) personal problems.

A camera, therefore, that is never judgmental (to the detriment of any criticism that Seidl’s cinema has always raised), but rather loving, close but impotent at the moment when concrete help is needed. And, above all, an intimate friend of the young Vivian, eager for a brilliant career, but, after all, still a child. Just as shown by the soft toys next to her bed or her fondness for the colour pink in her apartment. This contrast can only generate deep unhappiness with no apparent way out, as suggested by the close-up of the protagonist’s face, which suddenly changes expression – from joyful to resigned – hitting the viewer like a punch in the stomach.

It is impossible to remain indifferent after watching Models (as after watching any other of Seidl’s works). And this is precisely what the director wants: to hit, to shock, to enrapture the spectator without the fear of hurting him. While his main aim in this case is not to judge the protagonists, it seems to be rather to “punish” society, guilty of having “created monsters”, inflicting emotional shocks that are difficult to forget. Just like the moments in which we see the innocent Vivian screaming “I love you” in the mirror or desperately asking each of her lovers if he could ever fall in love with her and then ending up snorting cocaine on the toilet seat in a public toilet.

Original title: Models
Directed by: Ulrich Seidl
Country/year: Austria / 1998
Running time: 118’
Genre: drama
Cast: Vivian Bartsch, Tanja Petrovsky, Lisa Grossmann, Elvyra Geyer, Peter Baumann
Screenplay: Ulrich Seidl
Cinematography: Hans Selikovsky, Jerzy Palacz, Ortrun Bauer
Produced by: MR-Film

Info: Model’s page on the website of the Austrian Film Commission