- Movie Rating -

Pleasure (2021)

| May 11, 2022

Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure is a movie whose overriding results lay in the eye of the beholder, dependent largely on what you’re willing to take.  This is an explicitly graphic but narratively spare NC-17 portrait of a young immigrant from Sweden who travels to the sunbaked coast of L.A. with the goal of building a career in the porn business and, just given that description, you already know whether or not this movie is for you.  If you don’t regularly partake in the vast landscape of pornography available on the internet, then you probably won’t see this film through to the end.  If you are, then it will likely be very difficult to return to those images.  Either way, this is a film that leaves an impact.

Make no mistake, the movie is quite graphic.  The second scene of the movie features the protagonist in the shower shaving her vagina.  But this isn’t bonehead exploitation.  It has a lot to say about the people who put the pornographic images together, who put themselves through physical and psychological stress to make them happen.  More interesting to me is that this is a movie whose cold, spare corners (story-wise) allow for interpretation.  I can imagine in a year or two, many YouTube videos will crop up that will analyze this story as much for what it doesn’t show as for what it does.  Mentally, I have already started to build my own.

Our protagonist is Linnea (Sophia Kappel), who has chosen the name is Bella Cherry, a moniker so confident that she has it tattooed on her hand and pictured on her backside.  As she enters the country, she is asked “Business or Pleasure.”  Really, she could answer either way, but we know that one could make a case for both.  Why is she doing this?  What are her motivations?  Her reasons are really her own.  A tiny window of her home life comes in later but it seems so benign that you’re only left with more questions.

What is special about the film is its point of view.  This is the first film that I have ever seen about the porn business that takes place exclusively from a woman’s point of view.  What are the particulars?  How is the job explained to them?  What are they willing to do for the camera?  And most importantly, who is there to protect them.  Bella’s scope is an industry open to sexual debauchery as a business.  Sets are busy, and the sex on display is casual and alarmingly detached.  What is not surprising is that many of the sets are dominated by men and it is an arena in which the promises of safety mixed uncomfortably with the blurred lines of consent.

As long as the movie stays with the day to day routine of the business, Pleasure remains a conversation piece no matter your approach to the industry or the genre as a whole.  Where it falls flat, for me, is when it tries to build a narrative about the women Linnea clings to, other women who work in the business and must ultimately step on each other to get ahead.  That stuff is as old as the hills – the new kid who comes to town with a fresh face and fresh ideas and has to sell her soul for a shot at the big time.

We’ve seen that a million times.  The pressures of such a physically demanding business are what I was really interested in, especially in the age of #metoo.  This film reaches its greatest peak when dealing with that aspect and asking questions that it is not willing to answer.  This is a provocative film, a spare film, a unique film that will inspire a lot of discussion afterwards.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2021) View IMDB Filed in: Drama