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Review: Pleasure

Updated: Apr 2, 2022

Director: Ninja Thyberg

Writers: Ninja Thyberg, Peter Modestij

Genre: Drama

Release year: 2021

Runtime: 100 minutes

Ninja Thyberg's feature directorial debut has been called a contemporary version of Showgirls. It has all its trappings, but less pazazz. As with most European cinema, it prioritizes realism over ... well - pleasure. In the opening scene, we see the 19-year-old Linnéa whose stage name is Bella Cherry as she arrives in the United States to pursue a career in the porn industry. The scene has a documentary feel to it and this tone is somewhat maintained throughout the film.

Other than Kappel, the rest of the cast are actual adult performers and their performances are naturally realistic. There are no penetration shots, one close-up shot of Bella's vulva while shaving, and several many shots of erect penises. Thyberg spent years researching the porn industry after she debuted a short of the same name in 2013. But other than this realistic aspect, the film is really nothing to write home about.

Being of Swedish descent, the film promised to bring something new to the already saturated genre of films about sex work. The main character Bella Cherry, played by Sofia Kappel repeatedly claims how different she is from the "other girls", yet she and the film remain distinctly vanilla which is quite a feat considering the tantalizing subject matter.

Casting the gorgeous yet blank-faced Sofia Kappel as the lead may not have worked in this film's favor. Similar films like Steven Soderbergh's 2009 release The Girlfriend Experience were criticized for casting the adult entertainer Sasha Grey as the lead, but this film suffered for the opposite reason. The fact that Kappel was the only 'real' actor, the camera's devotion to her, and her narrative of exceptionalism could be what spoiled Pleasure. In her debut feature, there may have been too much riding on Kappel's performance.

Bella's critique of Swedish people early on in the film is ironic because this film follows suit. It is surprisingly boring. Of course, for the same reason, it is also predictable, safe, and neat. Thyberg's cinematography is pristine. Even the dissociative flashes Bella experiences during an exploitative rough scene feel underwhelming.

The scene in which Bella Cherry fucks her colleague Ava with a strapon is one of the film's strongest. Seemingly regurgitating the violence she has experienced in the industry, the scene marks something of a shift in Bella's character and we finally see some palpable psychological tension.

While it didn't quite deliver, Pleasure had all the ingredients to be a stunner. Thyberg made sure to leave plenty of room to appreciate Kappel's appearance. Her treatment of the thrilling subject matter was empathetic and the soundtrack spikes some life into this unfortunate snooze fest. Many have criticized its loose ending, but this was one of the only provocative points as far as I'm concerned. The ending's obscure abruptness adds something unexpected to an otherwise very basic film.

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