A top model has a meltdown in "Frankie," the feature debut of French actress-turned-helmer Fabienne Berthaud. Ultra-low-budget digitally shot pic believably renders the bitchy, vacuous world of fashion, as well the institutional atmosphere of insane asylums, but has little of consequence to say about either milieu.

A top model has a meltdown in “Frankie,” the feature debut of French actress-turned-helmer Fabienne Berthaud. Ultra-low-budget digitally shot pic believably renders the bitchy, vacuous world of fashion, as well the institutional atmosphere of insane asylums (especially since it was shot in a real one), but has little of consequence to say about either milieu. Helen of “Troy” Diane Kruger turns in a respectable perf in the title role, but is saddled with a bland character who doesn’t elicit much sympathy. Kruger’s name isn’t quite well-known enough to give this so-so looking pic much push into distribution beyond fests.

Frankie (Kruger) is ensconced in a near-catatonic state in a suburban snake pit in Blois, France. Real-life mental patients, babbling nonsensically, play themselves as her fellow inmates. After visit from her fashion-agency boss (Gerald Marie) and the maternal landlady (Brigitte Catillon) of a model’s residence Frankie used to doss at, asynchronous flashbacks reveal how this once-top-paid mannequin lost her marbles.

In her late 20s, German-born, Paris-based Frankie neared the end of her sell-by date. She was no longer as thin as her upcoming rivals, and her skin was ravaged by constant traveling and the gypsy lifestyle a modeling career demands. The camera watches as her nerves start to fray at fashion shoots, particularly one with a demanding, autocratic photographer named Christian (Christian Wiggert).

Frankie’s friendship with the agency’s lanky driver Tom (Jeanick Gravelines) helps, but her breaking point seems to come after an audition with a camp American casting director (J. Alexander) during which Frankie, stick thin by most standards, can’t fit into the required dress.

The improvised-sounding dialogue has a credibly banal, fashion-talk ring to it, but the film explains less about this world than any of the many reality TV programs on the subject. Berthaud tries to amp up arty effects with long, static takes of light-filled rooms, but a so-what feeling sets in by end. Pretty, folk tunes by musical combo CocoRosie add diversion.

Frankie

France

Production

A 7e Apache Film, Fabienne Berthaud presentation, in co-production with Quasar Pictures. (International sales; MK2, Paris.) Produced by Bruno Petit, Fabienne Berthaud. Directed, written by Fabienne Berthaud.

Crew

Camera (color, DV-to-35mm), Berthaud, Maud Camille; editor, Raphaele Urtin; music, CocoRosie ; sound, Gerraud Rombelles, Camille. Reviewed on DVD at Locarno Film Festival (Filmmakers of the Present), Aug. 6, 2005. (Also in Edinburgh Film Festival.) Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Diane Kruger, Jeanick Gravelines, Brigitte Catillon, Christian Wiggert, J. Alexander, Gerald Marie, Jean Louis Place. (French, English, German, Russian dialogue)
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