Model By Day

(Christian Duguay, Canada, 1994)


Down the years, many cinephiles faced with the prospect of watching yet another unpromising Canadian movie have probably felt the urge to adapt François Truffaut's famous dictum about another often unappealing national cinema: "British cinema is a contradiction in terms".

But is Canadian cinema really still so dull? The B movie shelves of large video shops offer some contrary clues.

Most film lovers know by now that mainstream Canadian cinema boasts at least one master director: David Cronenberg (M. Butterfly, 1993). Other, less well known names have distinguished themselves in the horror and erotic thriller genres, particularly Christian Duguay (Scanners III: The Takeover, 1992) and Sandor Stern (Pin, 1988). Duguay's Model By Day is a spirited variation on female vigilante films like Lipstick (1976) and Abel Ferrara's Ms. 45 (1981).

Like Point of No Return (1993), Model By Day offers a heroine who is more an amalgam of starkly contrasted female roles than a realistic individual. Lex (Famke Janssen) is a supermodel whose body is adorned on every billboard advertising Prison lipstick.

Shocked by the male violence inflicted on her best friend, Lex dons a bondage costume and by night becomes Lady X – a martial artist with almost more muscle and stamina than The Bionic Woman.

This is a smart, sassy film which includes inspired topical references on everything from the Russian Mafia to Basic Instinct (1992), as well as the best safe sex line yet heard in a movie – "It's hard to find someone you want to be careful with."

Most commendably, it is one of those rare genre movies which does not ultimately compromise its intriguing themes by diving for cover under the reassuring machinations of a complex plot. The war cry of Model By Day is announced unambiguously by one of its secondary characters: "All women are Lady X – we have to be!"

MORE Duguay: The Assignment

© Adrian Martin June 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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