Revolving around a young girl who infiltrates Ohio’s indie music scene, Poser shines thanks to gorgeous cinematography and a great performance from newcomer Sylvie Mix.
Have you ever attended a really cool underground party, and found yourself mesmerized by the great music and atmosphere, and hypnotized by the charismatic, well-dressed performers, clubgoers and artists all around you? It’s a very specific feeling one experiences at such events, which Poser immediately reminded me about. At first, you’re overwhelmed by what’s happening around you, and, as you try to take it all in, you find yourself a silent, attentive observer. Suddenly, a desperate ache to fit in takes over, and, though you realise that you’re probably never going to belong to that kind of scene, you can’t help but wish you could be one of the carefree, confident people around you.
For Poser ‘s protagonist, the need to belong to this kind of environment is less of a wish and more of a reality, as the timid, quiet Lennon (newcomer Sylvie Mix) has managed to infiltrate Ohio’s indie music scene by using her newly launched (and almost non-existent) podcast as a way to approach all those “elusive, non-conformist groups” who possess that “almost superhuman tenacity” she’d love to have.
And so, Lennon works her way into a world of warehouse concerts, underground art performances and exclusive house parties, and, as she establishes a connection with all those artists, poets, singers and performers she admires, her confidence in her not-so-authentic public persona grows, so much so that she inevitably becomes the façade she has meticulously crafted for herself. Soon, her desire to launch a podcast is replaced by musical ambitions of her own, and Lennon keeps “pushing herself outside of her comfort zone” — as she keeps telling herself and others throughout the movie — to craft a version of herself, and an entire identity, that not only conforms to all those clichés that are normally associated to the art scene, but also painfully resembles that of the artists she admires.
But Lennon is not the only one with a manufactured façade. As our protagonist records her conversations, we are introduced to a series of wonderfully pretentious art experts who hide behind high-sounding words, poets who revel in their newfound knowledge that we are all “composed of atoms, oscillating in and around us”, and experimental, alternative bands who “don’t really identify as bands”. All those self-centered artists and performers talk to Lennon about creativity and belonging, our attentive protagonist—who has always had an interest in “collecting sounds and conversations”—takes it all in, crafting her own self in the process. Until, one day, she meets Bobbi Kitten (played by the Columbus musician and performer of the same name), the frontwoman of a popular indie electronic-pop duo that sings about “feminism, sex, lust, love, and setting fire to the patriarchy”, and a dark, unhealthy obsession begins.
Needless to say, Lennon interviews Bobbi and her bandmate—the mysterious Z Wolf, who’s only ever seen wearing a Donnie Darko-meets-Frank wolf mask—for her podcast, and, as the two girls become friends, our attentive protagonist begins to copy Bobbi’s style, first by adjusting her own clothes and makeup to match the singer’s, and then by creating opportunities to meet up with her idol. In a key scene from the film, a still unaware Bobbi involves her stalkerish fan in a performance art experiment: Lennon has to mimic everything Bobbi does, until, “if we do it right, eventually […] you won’t be able to tell who’s starting or who’s following”. Bobbi’s experiment aims to “create art simultaneously”, but the question we’re left with, as we watch the two girls mimic each other, is on the nature of art and identity, and on whether or not they can ever be truly authentic. Who are the two artists behind the screen, underneath it all? And who is Lennon? Is the film’s protagonist a well-meaning young girl who’s taking (a little too much) inspiration from her idol to find out who she is, or is she hiding a darker, more disquieting plan?
In their first feature-length film, directors Ori Segev and Noah Dixon (who made many music videos, shorts and documentaries in the past) have crafted a compelling work of art that often feels like a visual album in itself, with stunning cinematography, inventive camera angles and intimate, raw direction. The clever use of symbolism, apparent in the many shots of mirrors, masks and train tracks representing Lennon’s journey and her torn sense of self, makes for an immersive experience, aided by an almost mystical score that often gives the film a fairytale-like atmosphere, but whose darker, most disquieting notes also foreshadow the darkness to come. Poser shines in its moments of subtle irony and ambiguity, and what’s even more impressive about the film’s technical execution is that it enables us to always witness the action from Lennon’s point of view, so much so that, as an audience, we get to discover who Lennon really is pretty much at the same time that Lennon finds out herself.
Sylvie Mix is exceptional as the film’s lead, tackling an incredibly complex role with an entirely convincing, multilayered performance that will hold your attention throughout the film’s entire runtime. Alternating highly effective moments of quietness with deeply affecting, emotional musical performances, Mix’s portrayal of the film’s protagonist constantly keeps us guessing on the puzzle that is her personality, making us all-the-more invested in the narrative, so much so that it’s hard to believe that Poser is her on-screen debut. Though not all the performances featured in the film feel entirely relevant to the narrative, the supporting cast does a great job of adding more depth to the film, starting from Bobbi Kitten, whose charisma and style are always believable.
If Poser excels in its direction, acting and style, the same cannot be said of its screenplay. Besides an episodic structure that feels a little unneeded, the film often struggles with characterisation and tone, and, as a result, it ends up leaving the viewer a little confused not only on the kind of message it wants to send, but also on who the film’s protagonist really is. Perhaps to make for a more gripping viewing experience, screenwriter Noah Dixon ends up presenting us with a leading character who’s both a good-natured young girl who does bad things out of a desperate need to belong, and a resentful, ruthless copycat who doesn’t regret having done bad things to a lot of people. Even though Lennon remains an intriguing character, whose narrative arc is bound to call for different interpretations among the audience, a flawed characterisation and a very abrupt resolution turn what could have been an insightful investigation on identity and art into an engaging film with a sometimes confusing narrative progression.
Poser‘s screenplay contains more than one beautifully ironic lines, especially in the first half of the film, but a lot of it also feels like it doesn’t know whether it wants to be an intimate coming of age drama or a darker kind of thriller. The film’s tone is, at times, inconsistent – which is understandable in a debut, and this makes it hard to grasp what kind of message the directors wanted to send across. Is the film a coming of age drama that revels in its protagonist’s ambiguity? Or is it a a critique of a very specific type of not-so-authentic artist, and an invitation to think for ourselves and look within us, and not at the outside world, to find out which kind of person we want to be? Perhaps in the attempt to be both — that is, a film that sparks a conversation on the issue of authenticity in art while also offering more than one dark twist — the film, at times, ends up being the very same type of artistic performance it criticizes, which is a shame.
Yet, Poser is still an impressive debut, and a thoroughly enthralling film that will keep your eyes glued to the screen with its gorgeous cinematography, Mix’s multilayered performance, and a story that might be flawed, but that is certainly unique and haunting enough to make for a memorable watch.
Poser premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday, June 10, 2021 and is now available to watch on digital and on demand.