Sundance 2021: PLEASURE is a Fearless and Challenging Look at the Adult Film Industry

Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure (Which was just picked up by A24), which just screened at Sundance is the Swedish director’s second feature and was based on her previous award winning short of the same name. While women directors taking on the adult film industry in cinema isn’t something new, it’s the Swedes empowering take on the American porn industry in particular, with that fresh outsider perspective that gives the film some real meat in its approach.The film is the story of Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel) who comes into LA from Sweden bright eyed and determined to be the next big porn star. Unlike some protagonists in these sorts of films, Bella is intelligent, cognizant, confident and capable of what she is going to do, and just how she is going to do it.

Thankfully given the setup Thyberg sidesteps most of the pitfalls and tropes you’ve come to expect here as Bella needs to win over adult agent Mark Spiegler, playing himself here, to become a “Spiegler Girl ‘’ and achieve her goal. Bella isn’t written off as a victim of circumstance, or as an abused or delusional girl, instead she’s a grown-ass woman who enjoys sex and has made this career choice with her parent’s blessing, no less. But it’s how Bella navigates this world and its cast of mostly naked characters that offers the real drama here. We experience through her POV, the really great shoots, where everything is by the book, and also the seedier ones. This delves into the coaxing, manipulation and abuse that are also known to be employed on performers, both male and female. It’s these two very contrasting points of views that are set before the audience, that let the viewer draw their own conclusions and opinions, rather than being spoon fed one.

Full of graphic and sometimes uncomfortable situations, Pleasure is not an easy watch as you’d probably guess. Its graphic nature isn’t titillating, thanks to its documentary-like look and feel, that also keeps the film from feeling at all exploitative in its endeavors. But the thing that really sets this film apart, are the echoes of Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi’s Goodbye Uncle Tom, in its the unfiltered lens Ninja Thyberg and in turn Bella Cherry view the US sex industry through. Since they are not from the US, they can really see and experience this industry with its bizarre contradictions, sexism and deep rooted racism that should really leave the viewer more unsettled than simply the sum of its nudity. Pleasure is a fearless, thought provoking and challenging bit of cinema that genuinely has something to say; its just can you bear to hear it.

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