Pleasure (2021)

Ninja Thyberg directs Sofia Kappel, Zelda Morrison and Evelyn Claire in this character study where a Swedish teen moves to LA hoping to make it big in the porn industry.

A well researched but often flat and dour look at the current adult entertainment market. Much rings true but the film feels like a Rorschach Test that the viewer brings their own politics and views to and finds whatever they like or disagree with laid out like a buffet for them to pick from. If you go in thinking porn is ultimately an abuse on the naive sex workers who sign up to be in it, then you’ll see plenty of soulless, callous exploitation. And if you are sex positive and think what a women chooses to do with her body is her own business then you’ll also enjoy plenty of… exploitation. The film tries to play to both markets, and everyone curious in between. You’d have to be pretty gauche in your understanding of the long existent billion dollar industry to not know most of the grim realities already – the coercion, the pain, the prejudices. There is nudity but it becomes background noise after the first set piece, there’s very little titillation for a plot with so many sex acts hardwired into it. The film is less interested in jiggling flesh, more in choices that might be seen as a moral fall or gynaecological compromise. It doesn’t help that game, first time actress, Sofia Kappel as Bella Cherry, is often such a blank slate (again specifically enigmatic so the viewer can pour their own juice into her empty cup). It is hard to see her much more than avatar for us to run over the rights and wrongs, positives and negatives, of each job she finds herself on. Sometimes even she is the manipulator and exploiter. Yet you don’t massively invest in her faltering march to stardom. You fear in five years time the non-professional actress might come out and say she felt pressured into taking on such an explicit and challenging role, uncomfortable with what ended up on screen, abandoned by how underwritten it was beyond the physical demands. Should Ninja Thyberg have found an established talent from the mainstream or porn industry to take on the lead? The rest of the ensemble are plucked from this world like the cast a neo-realist drama? These are thoughts, not accusations. It is a striking and promising debut, just a little obvious in its intentions and methods. It can be ugly to experience and watch. There are even times when the filmmaking transcends its purposeful digital flatness, has moments of almost Lynchian metaphor, like when Bella’s head leaves a set and gets smothered in the blue sky outside of the bedroom where the action is taking place. But there, pointedly, ain’t a lot of Pleasure here and the best porn is when the performers at least look like they are enjoying themselves.

6

Perfect Double Bill: Rocco (2016)

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

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