Pleasure review: An explicit and flawless drama

Much like the ambitious protagonist at the center of his story, Pleasure not afraid to get dirty. Swedish writer-director Ninja Thyberg’s new film is a deep dive into the world of the American porn industry told through the eyes of Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel), a Swede who moves to Los Angeles with the intention of becoming the next big porn star.

Bella wastes no time in starting this chase, and neither Pleasure. After opening with a brief but explicit audio clip of an exaggerated sex scene, Pleasure follows Bella de Kappel as she arrives in the United States fresh off her flight from Sweden. The first footage from the film shows Bella filling out paperwork and providing her fingerprints before an unseen customs officer asks her if she came to the United States for business or pleasure. After a brief pause, Bella replies, “Pleasure.”

It’s an example of kick-ass meta-humor Pleasure on an ironic note, but it’s not the moment in the film’s prologue that is most telling of what’s to come in Thyberg’s feature debut. Instead, it’s the moments when Bella has to sign papers and mark her fingers with ink that best align with Thyberg’s intentions in Pleasurea film that aims less to stir up its titular sentiment and more to expose the workings of an industry that produces content designed to titillate and excite.

Business or pleasure?

NEON, 2022

Despite the promise of the film’s title, Thyberg isn’t interested in creating the same feelings in Pleasure what are his characters. She makes it clear from the start when Bella shows up at a vacant LA home to shoot her very first porn scene. Throughout the sequence, Thyberg systematically lays bare (no pun intended) all the inconvenient truths and tips that linger beneath the surface of every porn scene.

The film, which is unrated in the United States, features plenty of explicit footage and footage. It’s not surprising given the film’s subject matter, but it’s a testament to Thyberg’s control as a director that she never feels like she takes. Pleasure‘s moments of nudity or sex too far. This achievement is in part the result of the film’s bright and shiny aesthetic, which pervades Pleasure with a sterility that prevents him from feeling even remotely sensual. The film’s look only reinforces Thyberg’s desire to explore the commercial side of the porn industry rather than its sexual side.

Her exploration culminates in Thyberg revealing many insider details that most people probably don’t know about the porn industry, as well as the rampant misogyny that runs through it, which can make life for female performers unfairly difficult. This aspect of the industry is ably expressed by Thyberg in one of the film’s best sequences, which begins when Bella de Kappel takes part in a BDSM scene led by a woman (Aiden Starr).

Climb the ladder

Bella looks through a door in Pleasure.

The experience turns out to be positive for the budding porn star. The rules of the stage are set from the start, and her team goes out of their way to make sure Bella is comfortable with everything that happens there. Energized by the experience, Bella tells her manager (Jason Toler) to find her a scene of a similar nature. The scene she gets is male-directed and features two other male performers, all of whom pay little attention to her emotions throughout filming. The footage is extremely difficult to watch, and the experience almost convinces Bella to leave LA and her budding porn career.

She doesn’t end up doing that. Instead, Bella decides to take matters into her own hands and pursues a manager (Mark Spiegler) who has the power to make her the star she believes she deserves to be. This decision marks a turning point for Pleasurewith the film gradually becoming less invested in examining the porn industry as a whole and more interested in exploring how Bella’s ambitious nature leads her to abandon many of her own rules in hopes of getting what she wants. she wants.

It is during this section that Kappel’s skills as a performer are most apparent. Pleasure marks Kappel’s acting debut in a feature film, but it doesn’t take long for the gaudy nature of her performance to wear off. So does Bella’s naivety, which is eventually replaced by her all-consuming desire to succeed. As a character, Kappel does a good job of bringing Bella’s calculating and cold side to life, especially in Pleasurelast act.

A (porn)star is born

Bella kisses a man in Pleasure.

Thyberg’s decision in Pleasureto make it a morality piece about the cost of reckless ambition is also what makes the film’s home stretch its weakest. Bella’s overall arc ends up feeling underwhelming and familiar, which makes the whole movie feel more generic than it should. That’s partly because her journey is one we’ve seen a thousand times before, but it’s more a result of Bella feeling less like a three-dimensional character and more like a vessel for her own interests. of Thyberg.

This does not mean Pleasure is an unsuccessful feature debut for Thyberg. Rather, the film is carefully edited from start to finish, and its ability to jump between several different tones in a single scene is due to Thyberg’s deep understanding of his material. Her examination of the porn industry is comprehensive and unbiased in an undeniably impressive way, and throughout the film she reveals many of the industry’s biggest problems without ever passing judgment on (most) people. who choose to participate. .

As a result, Pleasure‘s title ends up sounding less like a promise than a statement about the myriad ways an industry designed to simulate fun so often fails to deliver it for many of its female stars.

Pleasure hits theaters Friday, May 13.

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