Sundance Review: 'Pleasure' offers sincere, honest look at adult entertainment industry
Courtesy of Sundance Institute
From “Boogie Nights” to “The People Vs. Larry Flint,” few movies about the adult entertainment industry have been worthy of discussion let alone made for wide consumption. It’s tough to say if Ninja Thyberg’s provocative “Pleasure” can reach mainstream audiences, but there’s no denying it’s one of the best films to debut at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
Offering an honest look at adult entertainment and sex work without being exploitative (despite graphic, hard to stomach moments of sexual violence that’re tough to shake) Swedish director Ninja Thyberg’s “Pleasure” gets props for discovering Sofia Kappel who plays an ambitious porn star relocated from Sweden to Los Angeles. For both Thyberg - in her directorial debut - and Kappel - her feature debut - “Pleasure” is as stunning a director/actor combo in recent memory.
Easily the most authentic film made about the American porn industry, Thyberg puts Kappel through the gauntlet and the Swedish actress never loses her intensity. She’ll need it considering the cut throat nature of cracking into the LA porn scene and Thyberg’s dedication in giving audiences an honest look behind the scenes, documenting miniscule details nobody thinks about like contract and scene negotiations. From the outside looking in, some of the terminology can seem silly, but it’s handled professionally, and probably why Thyberg chose to cast real industry folks who know how the business operates. Ironically, Kappel is one of the few actresses in the film to have no experience in the adult world.
Nevertheless, it’s fascinating the realism Thyberg showcases during porn shoots; understanding how women and men have to groom themselves prior to filming or the casual, nonchalant small talk between takes. At one point, before getting tied up in chains for a rough scene, Bella and her co-star are seen goofing around with an app about sharks. And when the cameras stop rolling, crew members couldn’t be more supportive or nice. If anything “Pleasure” reminds us these are still people who love their careers and/or take it very seriously.
But “Pleasure” shows the nasty side of the business too, and Bella quickly realizes that, like most women in the field, it’s not about talent or skill level, but how far you’re willing to go for the scene. You’ll land more gigs for double anal and kinky fetishes as opposed to normal soft-core pornography and though directors will yell cut the moment a woman feels things have gone south, by then the psychological damage is done and you won’t get paid for an unfinished scene.
Even in porn, when you’d think women have all the leverage, they still have to climb the ranks and participate in degrading acts for the chance at getting ahead. “Pleasure” isn’t for everyone but Thyberg has crafted her film brilliantly around Kappel’s star-is-born transformation, keeping audiences attuned to her journey while never losing sight of dreaming big. Literally and figuratively.
PLEASURE debuted in the World Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.