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Pleasure (Review): A Powerful and Humanistic Exposition on Porn






Pleasure (Review): A Powerful and Humanistic Exposition on Porn

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Ninja Thyberg’s powerful voice and Sofia Kappel’s performance carry Pleasure – a captivating and realistic no-holds-barred exposition on the porn industry.



The fifteen years ranging from 1969 to 1984 were deemed the “Golden Age of Pornography”, at least for American audiences. Many adult pictures were striving and receiving positive attention from the mainstream crowded cinemas, including having big premieres. It was a time of sexual liberation, causing movements that challenged the traditional codes for sexual behavior. The two biggest films that made this renowned age were Andy Warhol’s Blue Movie, the first adult film to have a wide theatrical release that illustrated explicit sex and was apparently the inspiration for Last Tango in Paris, and Deep Throat. In the almost more than fifty years since the beginning of that uprising, society has evolved from the kind of thinking where even the slightest allusions to sex or nudity felt weird. Now, a few months after the release of the exploitation cinema-inspired X, comes the Sundance Film Festival 2021 hit, Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure – based on her own short of the same name.

Pleasure examines and explicitly portrays the adult film enterprise of today, as well as its struggles and power dynamics, as the lead protagonist climbs the industry’s ladder. The movie follows twenty-year-old Linnea, better known by her artistic name, Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel). She wants to follow her dreams of becoming a top star in the adult film scene – a Spiegler Girl, which is one of the highest points of success in that scenario. Bella has arrived in Los Angeles from her hometown in Sweden. The first time we see her is in US customs, where she is asked the purpose of her visit to the country if it’s either business or pleasure. She chooses the latter, hence giving the movie its title; of course, it comes from other circumstances that intertwine with its themes (the euphoria a person gets when achieving their “dreams”, sexual intercourse, amongst others). Bella’s “Hollywood” dream, in the style of La La Land, crashes down with a rude awakening. She realizes that it wasn’t what she expected and that it’s dominated by masculine power players. 

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Pleasure (© Plattform Produktion, Courtesy of Neon)

The struggles with the abuse from shady managers and sleazo actors and the dog-eat-dog rivalry displayed in the X-rated world are presented realistically by director Ninja Thyberg. She did a lot of research to do this film. For many years, she has been building relationships, meeting with some big names, and visiting the sets to depict the industry respectfully and not as a caricatured version. Pleasure is very explicit, to the point where some might find it too vulgar for their own tastes, but it is the only way to portray that world. There’s a no-holds-barred exposition to all of this. For most of its runtime, it takes an episodic approach, going through different sets and showcasing the experiences Bella goes through. Unlike many would expect, this isn’t an anti-porn movie; nonetheless, it demonstrates the good (the friendships Bella makes during her journey), bad (judgment by both men and women in power), and ugly (injustice and arrogance) of LA’s enterprise of pornography. 

On one shoot, for a company that mainly focuses on high kinks such as sex swings and strapped leather, Bella is treated with empathy by its all-female crew. She is given multiple safe words and is often checked on whether she’s emotionally and physically good to go. However, in another section further into the film, there’s a rough scene where the opposite happens, creating a constraint between the different people who handle these sets and treat the actresses working in them. And its ending adds more effectiveness to this already powerful depiction. It leaves more questions in your mind rather than clear-cut answers, but that’s far more interesting, as it’s worth the in-depth discussion. There’s a true-to-earth sensation thanks to the inclusion of actors/actresses and producers who actually work there, as well as the staggering and fearless performances by Sofia Kappel, who is making her acting debut here. It doesn’t look like it’s her debut performance because it is so forthright, and her chemistry with Revika Reustle, who plays Joy, is palpable. 

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This is a story about values, purpose, camaraderie, and the struggles of the power dynamics in a big enterprise. The themes it tackles could be applied to multiple places of work; it just so happens that this one is set in the porn industry. I think that’s why this film sticks with you the most; it’s in your face about everything that happens realistically, unlike other films that have tried to depict such industries that have been shamed upon in the past (like Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls). And, in addition, it has many humanistic features that make you care wholly about what happens to these ladies. On occasions, it gets hard to watch due to the difficulties some actresses go through in that place of work, albeit Pleasure might change your stance on pornography. Thyberg has such a powerful directorial voice with so much heft and verve that I can’t wait to see what she would do next. 

Watch on Apple TV

Pleasure: Trailer (NEON)

Pleasure was released unrated in theaters in New York and LA on May 13, and nationwide in the US on May 20, 2022, and is now available to watch on digital and on demand.

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