Noah Dixon and Ori Segev’s “Poser” is a confident film that melds fact and fiction and fuses multiple genres together to create a tense, compelling and thorny exploration of the relationship between creators and their hangers-on. Organized around podcast episodes that Lennon (Sylvie Mix) creates as a way to ingratiate herself within the Columbus, OH underground music scene, the film takes its title quite literally — playing up the awkward, and ultimately anxious interactions she has with indie musicians before trying to become one of them, creating some music of her own.
“Poser” begins with Lennon visiting an art gallery, and we quickly see her at various parties, but never really interacting with anyone. Instead, she records conversations, ambient noise, and even music on her smartphone, getting a feel for the rhythms of human interaction, but always keeping herself at a distance. She puts these recordings to tape, preferring the analog sound to the digital files that she takes — perhaps our first hint that she is more about fitting into the indie aesthetic than believing in anything herself. Her semi-regular dinners with her more affluent sister Janie (Rachel Keefe) and job as a waitress round out her mundane existence.
Yet, Lennon also has the idea of starting a podcast, interviewing musicians as a way into the cloistered artistic environment she’s fascinated with. Describing the Old North neighborhood as a modern-day Florence, another hint at pretension, she quickly becomes obsessed with an indie electronic band Damn the Witch Siren, a very real and good band playing themselves. Infatuated with frontwoman Bobbi Kitten’s cool aesthetic — her pink hair, willingness to embrace avant-garde art forms, etc. — Lennon slowly begins to copy Bobbi’s eccentricities until, well, you can probably figure out what happens next.
While the script, by co-writer Dixon, isn’t exactly revelatory in its exploration of how art — whether it be performed or embodied — inspires imitators, “Poser” nevertheless has a rich sense of place. While the Kitten that we see onscreen is, of course, fictionalized, the gap between what is staged and not is always a bit out of reach for the viewer. This lends the film a type of lived-in texture, as performers intermingle with real musicians.
Further, for a film that steadily builds a creeping sense of dread as Lennon further turns into Kitten’s doppelgänger, Dixon and Segev don’t just hone in on one tone, but they allow the humor of Lennon’s banal existence to peek through. Her podcast resembles any number of lo-fi experiments, as she dryly recounts the history of the Columbus music scene with the voice and seriousness of Sarah Koening. Of course, the musicians and artists love to be interviewed by Lennon, talking about their grand ambitions for their music, poetry, or art. But, no one seems to know, or really care, that Lennon’s podcast is never released. Just as she uses them to find an identity, they use her — and her microphone — to feel like they are creating important work and that people outside of their small collective care and are paying attention.
The film also makes the wise decision to only hint at Lennon’s backstory. While we are teasingly given some exposition about her relationship with her mother, Lennon is almost entirely left alone to navigate the world. While her personality is limited to reflecting what those around her care about, she also seemingly comes into her own by discovering, and copying, Kitten.
Such a singular narrative focus works well to mimic Lennon’s own personality, while also showcasing an impressive idiosyncratic approach. While the story beats may not be surprising, “Poser” still acts as an impressive debut for not only the directors but also Mix and Kitten, who create a simmering tension between them. [B+]