21st Jun2022

‘Pleasure’ VOD Review (Mubi)

by Alex Ginnelly

Stars: Sofia Kappel, Revika Anne Reustle, Evelyn Claire, Chris Cock, Dana Dearmond, Kendra Spade, Jason Toler, Lance Hart, Mark Spiegler | Written by Ninja Thyberg, Peter Modestij | Directed by Ninja Thyberg

A great feature debut for Ninja Thyberg. An honest, and often brutal look at the porn industry. Pleasure is shown through the eyes of a woman torn between her ambition and the reality of the harsh and cutthroat lifestyle of being a porn star.

A young woman from Sweden arrives in LA with ambitions to be the next big star in the adult film industry, it sounds like the plot from one of the porn films this girl will end up staring in, but the film is so much more than that. The woman is Bella Cherry, played by the new and brilliant Sofia Kappel who makes her debut in this complex role. It’s through her eyes we get to discover this world, seeing it as she sees it, experiencing it as she does. Sofia Kappel brings a watchful eye to the character of Bella Cherry, always watching, always studying. The audience always gets a sense that she’s constantly thinking, devising and planning how to make her next move. Often these looks are ones of ambition, and often they’re looks of discomfit that make you feel uneasy in your seat, but you always feel she’s plotting her way to the top.

It’s through the discomfort of the film that really shows the harsh and brutal nature of the industry, an industry predominately ruled by men. Men who aren’t interested in creating stars, they are only interested in themselves and that creates a very real and very dangerous world for these women we encounter to live in. One of these girls is Joy, another adult performer living in the same house as Bella. The two form a strong bond and through their friendship we can see the true struggle that Bella will come up against, choosing between her ambition and her personal relationships. Zelda Morrison, who plays Joy, gives a stand-out breakthrough performance that stands toe to toe with Sofia Kappel in the lead. Following their relationship sends us through so many emotions and keeps us so engaged throughout that it feels like one of the truest and real friendships put to screen in a long time. In fact the whole world feels so real, that when the tough moments hit, and there’s one in particular, showing the sexual violence of the world that is hard to watch, they hit hard and true.

World building is one of the many keys to good filmmaking. From worlds as large as that in The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, to worlds as small as 12 Angry Men or Rope, worlds need to feel real and lived in to be believed, and that’s what Ninja Thyberg has done here. Through the pre-production of this film she dived deep into the real adult entertainment world, spending a lot of time researching and studying the life on set, and that comes bursting to life on screen. There are times when Pleasure almost feels like a documentary with the accuracy you feel that is being portrayed. A big part of this is due to using a lot of adult performers in supporting roles. What stops it feeling too much like a documentary however is the brilliant cinematography by Sophie Winqvist, along with the film’s glossy colour palette and heightened sound design. Everything look and sound is sharp, like living on a razor’s edge, the edge that could cut these women open at any moment. A life that is hard to balance and hard to navigate, never seeming to invite loyalty or friendship. A life Bella must push through if she is to rise to the top. Bella herself is hard to like at times but through the performance of Sofia Kappel we warm to her and want her to succeed and be safe. Some of her choices may be questionable but they always feel true to her character and her world.

Pleasure is a grand debut for many newcomers who we should all watch out for in the future. Their first film is going to be hard for many to watch, the explicit nature of the film and world isn’t hidden away, it’s shown in all its highs and lows. For lovers of film it’s one to watch but may turn many people away with its subject matter and at many times brutal nature.

**** 4/5

Pleasure is available to watch now on MUBI. You can also check out our review of the film from its Sundance London debut right here.


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