Poser is an ambitious work that pushes contemporary indie filmmaking out of its familiar comfort zone, doing so with authenticity and creative aplomb..
In the middle of one of Poser’s early scenes, we see Lennon Gates (Sylvie Mix), a young girl who dreams of making her mark as a podcaster in the underground indie music scene of Columbus, Ohio, talking with Micah (Abdul Seidu): “I’d strive to capture honesty in the musicians I record.” This statement works as well as anything to reveal the essential idea and quality of Ori Segev and Noah Dixon’s debut feature. In following Lennon, as she goes from one interview to the next, or from the backstage of a live show to a house party, as she rides her bike in the streets with a cellphone in hand and donning headphones, or in between her shifts working as a late-time dishwasher in a restaurant, the film curiously tries to articulate nothing less than the meaning of life, finding one’s purpose, and the struggle for identity in a time when social media, smartphones, podcasts, and Google search engines govern the world of youth more than ever. It’s also indicative of the interstice between one’s outward persona and true self, and the resultant struggle to cope with one’s surroundings. Understood differently, it’s something of a study in how passion(s) can be re- and misdirected along the way through a hidden discourse, or invisible (peer) pressures — a complicated encompassing condition that can be most loosely related to the French sociologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu’s term “Symbolic Violence,” in which a person operating in a self-alienating mode strives to coalesce with the subtle expectations of a specific group or community.
From Poser’s opening art gallery scene, Lennon appears to be such a character, trying to secretly record the opinions of others about a painting so that she can later recite their thoughts and mimic their rhetorical expressions. It’s an idea that again appears in a later, remarkable scene in which she meets the enigmatic, talented, and uncompromising musical artist, Bobbi Kitten (front-woman of the rock band Damn the Witch Siren), and mirrors her bodily gestures and facial expressions in almost performance art fashion. Newcomer Mix, whose presence holds ephemeral appeal, scans on-screen like a mix of Imogen Poots and Hannah Gross, perfectly embodying her introverted, timorous protagonist who, as her character admits, wants to push herself out of her comfort zone and find space to be truly creative. It’s a narrative arc that later builds in intensity, particularly as it sets a stark contrast with Bobbi, who is gradually characterized as cooler and more rebellious, operating as a duality in which she is both ideal-self and nemesis for Lennon. It calls to mind Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, but here, Segev and Dixon execute such elements with a lighter mood, shaping Poser into an airy, eerie piece of work.
Just as Lennon slowly moves from eager fandom into the dark obsessions of stalking — and from an avid archivist to a hesitant plagiarist — the film also engages in various modes of filmmaking: Poser frequently merges different fiction and documentary qualities in its study of art v. reality, truth v. forgery, while also paying homage to local, underappreciated Columbus musicians and acts (both real-life icons and fictional creations), resulting in work that imbues micro-portraiture into a broader panoramic view. Add to that a delightful atmosphere and a slick, stylish aesthetic, and this ambient psycho-erotic music thriller testifies to a directorial duo in total control of their work. Developments that could easily slip into stereotypical machinations or evince inanimate engineering are instead treated with such tender care as to feel entirely effortless. That’s to say, Segev and Dixon don’t just render the story into a compositional bravura series of sounds and images, but also caress every fine detail they capture within each shot and frame; every color pigment and ray of light, characters’ facial expressions, the fabric of clothing, and each instance of silence and sound are in such balance that both the film’s mysterious aura and upbeat quality build easily and effectively. The directors’ visual craftsmanship — it’s easy to see their music video background here — seems to be inspired by the gauche maximalist grunge of Harmony Korine’s later films or even the work of Nicholas Winding Refn, while their precise narrative minimalism recollects someone like Gus Van Sant at his best. Whether depicting a landscape (in long-shots), the characters (in close-ups), or action/interaction (in mediums), the camera is always attentive to what it’s recording, while layering onto that an array of visual textures — from digital to old-school Handycam cinematography. Ultimately, then, Poser is an ambitious work without ever feeling pretentious, one that intends to push contemporary indie filmmaking out of its familiar comfort zone (an aim not unlike Lennon’s), and does so with authenticity and creative aplomb, achieving a rare sincerity in all it captures.
Originally published as part of Tribeca Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 2.