Why a New Wave of Model-Actresses Are Choosing Indie Films Over Blockbusters at Cannes

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Models are a regular presence on Cannes’ red carpets, but lately they’ve also become a force within the festival’s official selections. This year, several models played key roles in films competing for the Palme d’Or, sharing the spotlight with some of cinema’s biggest names. Though there have always been models who’ve transitioned into cinema, the majority have done so via commercial projects where they’re typically cast in one-dimensional roles. (Consider Kate Upton tackling the ditzy blond trope in The Other Woman or Rosie Huntington-Whiteley serving as a Megan Fox replacement in Transformers: Dark of the Moon.) The expectation about models in movies is generally that they’ll provide eye candy and little else.

This year’s Cannes Film Festival is set to break that mold. Cannes’ model-actresses have largely eschewed popcorn flicks in favor of challenging films by prestigious directors. While these parts may not come with the media attention provided by a blockbuster, they often lead to consistent work. In 2013, Marine Vacth made waves with the starring role in François Ozon’s controversial Young & Beautiful, playing a teen call girl and displaying impressive range. Her acclaimed performance led to a spot in Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s latest, Belles Familles, opposite Gael García Bernal, as well as a Vogue Italia editorial and a spot in Miu Miu’s Spring campaign. With fashion embracing indie actresses more than ever before, a breakthrough role can even serve to boost a modeling career.

Several models hope to follow Vacth’s example at this year’s festival, among them rising star Madalina Ghenea, a Romanian beauty cast alongside legends Jane Fonda and Michael Caine in director Paolo Sorrentino’s latest, Youth. Serving as a sumptuous companion piece to Sorrentino’s Oscar winner, The Great Beauty,Youth tackles issues of aging, wealth, and happiness as it explores the lives of hotel guests at an exclusive Alps retreat. Ghenea’s experience in front of the camera lends itself to her role as a Miss Universe winner, and she holds her own opposite Hollywood royalty. With three additional films in the pipeline, including a rumored spot in Zoolander 2, Ghenea is building an impressive résumé.

Elsewhere, ’90s runway regular Chrystèle Saint Louis Augustin resurfaces opposite Vincent Cassel in director Maïwenn’s controversial tribute to dysfunctional marriage, Mon Roi, while newly minted Miu Miu fragrance campaign star Stacy Martin breathes life into Matteo Garrone’s macabre adaptation of Pentamerone, titled Tale of Tales. Fresh from her success in Saint Laurent, Aymeline Valade stars in Louis Garrel’s directorial debut, Le Deux Amis. With the festival still under way, it’s too early to tell which of these beauties will reap the full benefits of Cannes’ exposure, but it’s telling that they’ve all chosen roles with substance. In an era when even the biggest movie stars balance their hits with understated roles in independent features, models looking to succeed in Tinseltown have to showcase the same range that has come to define the modern movie star.

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