A young Swedish woman travels to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming a porn star in this sexually explicit if eye-opening dramatisation of professionalism, as coded by pleasure, pain, power and submission.
Dir. Ninja Thyberg
2021 | Sweden | Drama | 108 mins | 1.85:1 | English & Swedish
Not rated – exceeds R21 regulations for explicit sexual content and nudity
Cast: Sofia Kappel, Zelda Morrison, Evelyn Claire
Plot: Bella arrives in Los Angeles from her hometown in Sweden, with dreams of becoming the next porn superstar. However, as her ruthless ambition leads her into increasingly dangerous territory, Bella struggles to reconcile her dreams of empowerment with the realities of the darker side of her industry.
Awards: Nom. for Grand Jury Prize – World Cinema Dramatic (Sundance)
International Sales: Versatile
Subject Matter: Mature – Porn Industry
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Swedish filmmaker Ninja Thyberg’s first feature has rightly created some shockwaves in the indie festival circuit as it tackles a taboo topic rarely portrayed cinematically—the porn industry.
An expansion of a short film that she first made in 2013, Pleasure follows a young Swedish woman, who travels to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming a porn star.
She calls herself Bella Cherry, and as a newbie, she must confront her insecurities and fears in order to rise up the ladder. And by rising up the ladder, that would mean—like in any other profession—being tasked with more challenging portfolios.
In this case, Bella must push herself to engage in more extreme sexual acts in front of the camera, sometimes at the cost of physical and psychological suffering.
“Don’t look at me. Look at the camera.”
Well, as the saying goes—no pain, no gain. And so, as disturbing it may be as a behind-the-scenes look at porn sets and sex performers, Pleasure is also eye-opening in its portrayal of robust professionalism and ethics.
In that sense, Thyberg’s film doesn’t entirely demonise the porn industry, and through Bella’s range of experiences, we see how porn actors are professional and treated as human beings… well, until they are not.
The film features real-life adult film stars, and as such, can get very explicit with graphic portrayals and descriptions of sexual acts. With an exceptional performance by Sofia Kappel in her acting debut as Bella, Pleasure very much relies on her bold display to hide a rather straightforward narrative.
Still, Thyberg’s work should strike as more than just a curious note for more open-minded cinephiles as it codifies—and conflates—the concepts of pleasure, pain, power and submission.
Yes, I expected demonization of the erotic (I refuse to use the word ‘porn’ because it is so judgmental) film industry, and was surprised at the edge that the script – and the excellent lead actress – brought to the issue.
While at times I had to look away from the brutality I found this movie a most informative glimpse at the women and men who actually want to make a career of acting in erotic films, despite the daunting challenges. Truly admirable.
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It’s eye-opening indeed – I always wondered what it’s really like behind the scenes.