Following a short of the same title in 2013, Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure is a purposefully uncomfortable perspective on the adult film industry. The media’s shaping of identities and gender roles are brazenly exposed through fresh, Bambi-eyed Bella Cherry (Sophia Kappel), escaping conservative Swedish culture to find fame. Much of the 19-year-old’s situation aligns with many other Hollywood hopefuls who suffer cyclic abuse, and more tragically, who are willing to bear its consequences for the promise of stardom.
Thyberg shifts abruptly between technicalities of camera position and graphic content, the latter unflinchingly confirming the absence of dignity in the nature of this work, which is made especially apparent by Bella’s initial innocence. Increasingly intense scenes force the audience to a breaking point, proving their effectiveness. Such cut-throat honesty eliminates potential naivety towards the assumed glam lifestyle of adult film stars, or, in fact, any career where women’s bodies are separated from the individual as profitable aesthetic objects.
Bella is insecure behind a cool façade, believing her path will correspond with self-discovery. However, she instead realises it is only leading her further from the self she knows. As much as she claims willingness, her discomfort is evident, resulting in a desperate conflict. The protagonist is so eager to succeed, yet grapples for an autonomy that is slipping through her fingers with each job. When she surrenders to free work for experience, viewers fear what is next on a quest to ironically, “have fun”.
Power is the leading force in a feature that screams its scarcity of humanity, the exception being one briefly explored friendship, which is incredibly touching amidst its heartless setting. Thyberg paints a reality where business and pleasure are dangerously confused, with evidence that hierarchy exists everywhere, only here, moral degradation and sexual objectification are the playing cards. Niceties of agents and directors are replaced with aggression when Bella admits her limits, reminding spectators of her work’s shallow root, with little place for women’s feelings.
Pleasure’s strength is its deep authenticity. Much of the cast comes from the industry itself, creating a truthful representation that could have easily been distorted for dramatic appeal. Kappel’s acting inexperience only enhances the credibility of a character she embodies powerfully.
This movie isn’t explicitly for or against the industry, but it certainly doesn’t uplift a world that, at its core, utilises power to the detriment of female integrity. The uncensored truth stings – and is hard to endure – but it sparks necessary debate on the role this taboo culture plays in a patriarchal society.
Pleasure is in cinemas on 15th June for one night only and on MUBI from 17th June 2022.
Watch the trailer for Pleasure here: