There is something about the nature of the fashion industry that makes it an easy target for satire, whether it’s William Klein’s Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo?, Robert Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter or even The Devil Wears Prada, filmmakers can’t resist poking fun at superficial self-important people wrapped up in their own little world and in love with the glamour of it all. Still, you don’t get the impression that anyone has really done the subject justice. Perhaps the film industry sees something of itself mirrored in the fashion world, or perhaps it is simply unwilling to dig too deeply beneath a façade that truly has nothing of substance beneath the surface. It takes a French novelist, Fabienne Berthaud in her first feature film, to examine a more serious side to the industry and the psychological impact and implications it has on the young women who become models without ever getting the opportunity to develop as a real person. If there is anything that lies beneath the glamorous surface of the fashion industry, it would appear to be madness.
Admittedly, that might not seem just a major revelation or even a variation from the treatment accorded to the subject by the filmmakers of the above-named satires. The job of a model is a demanding profession, the young women having to work long hours, handle loneliness, boredom, being conscious about their weight and looks, are faced with the constantly changing demands and fickleness of fashions, have to deal with jealousy, bitchiness and competitiveness from other models, and find themselves talked about and treated as if they were objects rather than people. Essentially, a model is nothing more than a glamorous clothes-hanger and treated accordingly – something that can be discarded at any time, particularly in favour of newer, younger models. It’s no wonder that sensitive young girls who enter the profession find it difficult to establish or develop an identity, but how is such a young woman supposed to adapt to the real world when at the age of 26 or 27, she finds herself approaching the end of her career, with no real social skills, little sense of identity and a failing sense of worth?
Revealing the less than glamorous side of the fashion industry might not be anything new, but the manner in which it is examined by Fabienne Berthaud is refreshingly different, showing it from the perspective of one model, Frankie (Diane Kruger) who is fast approaching the age of 30, and focussing on the psychological impact it has on the young woman. It’s a tricky subject that isn’t often taken seriously, and Frankie doesn’t just have just one film cliché to avoid in its depiction of the fashion industry, it also has to find a way to avoid the typical depictions of mental breakdown and institutionalisation. Partly through the low-budget nature of the filming (the film was made over a period of three years between assignments of real-life model Diane Kruger, and regroupings to gain additional funding), and partly through stylistic choice, the film is shot on handheld low-definition video, or digital video, giving it a documentary feel that avoids the trappings of the surface glamour and gets to the grittiness of what lies beneath. It also achieves some impact from the blending and intercutting of the two distinct parts of the film - the decline of Frankie’s modelling career along with her sanity, and her attempt to piece together her life in the sanatorium. The two strands work as complementary contrasts, the lifestyle of soft drugs contrasted with a life supported by prescription drugs, the dressing up of the model with the dressing down of the patient – both of them wearing bathrobes. The structure is further enhanced through the excellent choice of music from CocoRosie, their music touching on the ethereal qualities of the film while remaining grounded in the folk roots of the arrangements.
Another factor in the success of the film is the performance of Diane Kruger. A model at the time of filming looking towards a career in filmmaking that would later be established through Troy, Goodbye Banafa and National Treasure, playing a model may not appear to be much of a stretch for her, but Kruger portrays Frankie without falling into hysterical caricature or playing the role for sympathy, but rather with a simplicity and blankness that shows her increasing incomprehension, anger and fears, allowing the madness going on around her to speak for itself, notably to great effect in one troubled photo shoot. There is certainly some tedium in the film that goes along with the territory and inevitably some obvious points made, but with a convincing central performance, strong supporting roles and an understanding outlook, Frankie presents a refreshing take on an industry and lifestyle that is far too easy to send-up.
Frankie is released in the UK by Soda Pictures. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, in PAL format, and is Region 2 encoded.
Evidently, there are issues with the low-budget nature of the filming, but in respect of how well the quality of the transfer matches the original intentions and film stock, Frankie looks very well indeed on this release. The film is presented with anamorphic enhancement at the correct 1.78:1 (16:9) aspect ratio and it appears to be progressively encoded. There are one or two scenes where interlacing and movement artefacts are present, but this would appear to be down to the manner in which the film has been shot. On the whole, the transfer is perfectly stable and, on a dual-layer disc, free from any compression or macroblocking issues. The print itself is clear, colourful, well toned and free from any marks or damage.
The soundtrack is presented as Dolby Digital 2.0 and presents no real problems. Dialogue and other sound effects are clear, but the tone of the film is best carried in the soundtrack and pervasive use of CocoRosie songs, and there it is certainly most effective.
English subtitles are included for all French and German dialogue used in the film. English is spoken at times for a number of short exchanges, but no hard of hearing options are provided for this. The subtitles are excellent, in a clear white font and are optional.
The only extra feature is the original French Theatrical trailer (1:40) for the film, which has fixed French subtitles and optional English subtitles.
There are no major revelations in Frankie - fashion modelling can be a tough and demanding job – but the film takes the time to realistically depict the psychological impact of the profession on young, sensitive girls who haven’t had the chance to develop real lives, and it also demonstrates the talent of a capable first-time director and promising model-turned-actress. The UK DVD release from Soda Pictures doesn’t provide much in the way of supplemental features, but the presentation of the film itself is excellent.