The Model is the latest film from Mads Matthiesen, who captivated us in 2012 with his Sundance-winning film Teddy Bear. When emerging fashion model Emma gets a chance to pursue her dream of becoming an international top model, she leaves her everyday life in Denmark behind, and moves to Paris. At a photo shoot in her new hometown, she meets the attractive photographer Shane White and they fall in love. But their relationship soon turns into a dangerous obsession for Emma.
We sat down with Mads shortly before the films Swedish premiere at the Göteborg Film Festival to talk all things The Model.
Cinema Scandinavia: Can you describe the film for us?
Mads Matthiesen: The Model is a story about a young girl who travels out into the world to follow her dreams. You could call it a coming-of-age story because it deals with a young girl whose dreams clash with reality. It’s about the meeting of her dreams with reality and how much she will fight to still pursue that dream.
Even though it’s a coming-of-age story I wouldn’t use that wording. It’s set in the fashion industry and I think that’s a good place to show rapid growing up because it fits so well in terms of a young girl travelling out into a competitive and difficult business.
There are a lot of things in the film that are about inner and outter values. Obviously it’s a story about how she tries to make it in the business because of her looks and she is confused by what is love, what is recognition, do people really care? The values are put on the outside and not on an inner level. I try to debate that in a way throughout her journey meeting with the fashion industry. Maybe you can look at social media – are you pursuing likes on Instagram instead of getting loved by someone close? That whole confusion around a recognition contra love and confusing recognition with love.
CS: What kind of research did you do?
MM: I knew a little bit about the fashion industry – I knew people who had worked there and I knew girls who had worked as models and travelled. Obviously I didn’t know the Paris fashion scene so in the writing phase we started to collaborate with some agencies and they were very open with helping with us. I travelled to Paris and just hung out in Paris following the girls that worked and lived there. I saw how they did it. I met up with the booking agencies and talked with them in Paris. I went to the fashion weeks as well [laughs]. I had this idea that I very much wanted to do a film that shouldn’t be reality – it’s still a fiction film – but the whole description of the violence and the fashion would should be realistic. From the start I had this idea that the main character should be a real model who had done the shows and been on the covers and who knew about the world and also had the looks and the ability to transform in front of a camera and knew how to act. We started out casting real Danish fashion models. I think it took eight months and we went to all the agencies and we had 60-70 girls for a casting session. I met Maria who got the part in New York because we needed to travel sometimes because they were living abroad. We found Maria there and she had never acted before.
I had tried that [using non-actors] before with Teddy Bear which was about a body builder. He was also a non-actor so it was part of building the reality around the environment we were portraying. Also when we shot it in Paris we also hooked up with a French magazine called L’Officiel that helped us in staging the whole shoot and styling them. The hairdressers and stylists weren’t actors so we tried to get a sense of reality. That was really important for me. It was supposed to be a realistic movie even though it’s melodramatic. You need to dramatise it and this maybe could happen in the fashion industry.
The whole description of the Paris fashion scene has to be realistic in some way.
You don’t reveal that Emma is sixteen years old until close to the end of the film. Why wait to reveal her age?
One thing is that the girls are travelling out there at an early age. But it is also to play around with the audience about how we see this girl. Maybe we see her as older, maybe the fashion industry does in some way. We portray these very young girls as women – these are women in the magazines and actually they are very young girls a lot of the time. It was to emphasise that yeah, maybe you didn’t think she was sixteen. Shane didn’t think she was sixteen. Maybe sometimes people forget that this is a young girl.
Why did you choose the Paris fashion scene over some other major hubs in the industry?
The film is also about breaking out about something at home and getting away. Going away to the city of love. The whole thing about Paris as a romantic place. We also were talking about making it Milan or New York but in the end it was just like Paris is the fashion capital and it was so obvious that of course she should travel there. It’s a big city and she comes from a small city and all that. It was also important to show the travel. The girls travel from small cities all over the world to the main fashion cities. That’s where it happens.