Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

Throughout Models, Ulrich Seidl’s fictionalised spin on a quartet of real-life catalogue models in contemporary Vienna, its four protagonists converse with one another while looking direct into the camera, as if it were placed behind a mirror – such as that found in the bathroom of a night club. Vulnerable yet candid, these girls vie and sustain our attention with a sensitivity and frankness that permeates the film as a whole.

Models opens with a two-shot, of peroxide blondes Vivian (Viviane Bartsch) and Elvyra (Elvyra Geyer) snorting coke in the back of a cab, agreeing “to hell with all men”. Shortly after, we see both in their respective homes: Vivian says “I love you” repeatedly into a bathroom mirror while Elvyra struggles to express her feelings to a lover over the phone. Fellow hopefuls Tanja (Tanja Petrovsky) and Lisa (Lisa Grossman) complete the foursome, as Seidl gradually establishes his preference for one-take scenes and an editorial style that emphasises the ritualistic nature of their work.

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Seidl has a clear knack for casting the kind of performers who lend authenticity to his chosen world. His is a kind of investigative directorial style; one feels his curiosity for worlds too easily dismissed by outsiders, precisely because they’re already at the margins, inhabited by and dependent upon society’s bottom-rungers. Seidl is intrusive enough to frame compositions that are arresting and/or symmetrical (in a word, aestheticised) while allowing his performers a complete freedom to engage with one another as they see fit (in a word, naturalist). One suspects the director was drawn to the mere appearance of his actors – particularly to Geyer’s, whose bloated lips and huge breasts speak so succinctly of irrevocable facial/bodily transformation in the pursuit of recognition – in the hope of finding charm and warmth beneath the grotesque veneer. Models isn’t for categorisation purposes a documentary, though it’s easy to see why and how it could be marketed as one.

Liposuction, sunbed sessions, gym visits, waxing appointments, intermittent shots of a pair of slippers stepping onto bathroom scales. These characters’ daily efforts just to maintain their photogenic potential in an image-obsessed world are exhausting, and lend the film its structural framework. But Seidl’s interested in these people as people, and is compassionate enough to implicate their trade as innately patriarchal, as one that creates utopias for other men while contributing specifically to the systemic professional and social pressures upon women to look and act a certain way (Punk Anderson’s Shave That Pussy features recurrently on the soundtrack, while the most explicit full frontal nudity here is, refreshingly, a male’s).

All four actresses are excellent; forever chewing gum, Bartsch, in particular, is superb. Through their nuanced, honest performances, a range of emotional ground is covered - these women are funny, smart and optimistic in their daily negotiation of an industry hostile to the idea of them being an organised and conscious workforce. Seidl is at times subtle in his evocation of their domestic needs and comforts - a bright red hot water bottle chimes visually with the similarly coloured settee on which sex outside a drab marriage takes place. But the images that linger most from this film are arguably those captivating, exhilarating asides in which the girls find physical and emotional release by dancing under the frantic neon of Vienna’s Volksgarten Discothek – or that gentle, sideways track through its vicinity at dawn, when the girls enjoy their own company without a man in sight.

Reviewed on: 02 May 2013
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Models packshot
A portrait of a quartet of aspiring Viennese models.


IndieLisboa 2013

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