Pleasure comes in many forms, but it certainly doesn’t come via the porn industry according to Pleasure, the unpleasantly good drama from writer/director Ninja Thyberg.
Thyberg, who arguably has the best first name in the history of first names, thrusts deep into a world that is known for drawing young women in and spitting them out like… well, use your imagination. Pleasure follows Bella Cherry, who travels to Los Angeles from Sweden to become an adult entertainment star for some reason or another. But what starts with just some large dick in various places turns into a frightening reality involving less-than-kosher managers, competitive girls, and even more unsavory actions.
While there’s plenty of sex, little of it is erotic. If there’s a message that Thyberg is looking to convey, it’s that the porn industry is all business, and when it isn’t it’s much, much worse. Hidden behind polite demeanors are ruthless men (and women) looking to take advantage, either financially or otherwise. The movie hits its peak, or trough, in a scene in which Bella is filmed being accosted and abused by two men; the line between work and rape all but drips away.
The dark themes are contrasted by bright, vibrant photography, giving the production a false sense of rosiness. It’s a great looking film that rarely if ever shares away from the material. Sofia Kappel, in her first feature length role, makes for a striking protagonist; she’s well cast and manages the complexities of her character effortlessly.
I would have liked to better understand the motivations behind Bella, however; while you quickly gather that she’s ambitious, the movie is missing the why… why the adult entertainment industry? Why go the path she did? More detail would have helped us on her journey.
Pleasure isn’t for everyone; it’s brutally hard to watch at times. However, it’s also one of the best dramas to play at Sundance.
This film was reviewed as part of coverage of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.