Home #Hwoodtimes PLEASURE: A Young Swedish Woman Dives into the L.A. Porn Business

PLEASURE: A Young Swedish Woman Dives into the L.A. Porn Business

Sofia Kappel as Bella Cherry

By Jim Gilles

Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 11/15/21 – At the annual AFI Film Festival, there is almost always a special place for a shockingly explicit film about sex and power. This year’s plum pick was Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure (Sweden, 2021), which comes with a trigger warning for its depiction of sexual violence. The Swedish director expanded her 2013 short film by the same name, set amid the adult-film industry, but takes the action to Los Angeles, a production hotspot for this type of content. 19-year-old Linnéa leaves her small-town life in Sweden for Los Angeles to become a big porn star. When asked at the airport whether she was in Los Angeles for business or pleasure, Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel) answers, “pleasure,” followed by a small, unreadable smile. Pleasure’s writer-director Ninja Thyberg gives us a look into the life of a sex worker through Bella. What Bella quickly learns is that in order to get to the top, she’ll have to cross lines she never wanted to. This film premiered at Sundance 2021 and has been picked up for distribution by Neon.

Linnéa (Sofia Kappel) preparing for porn audition

Try as it might, Pleasure does not provide much depth of field about the porn industry or the kind of people who work in it. In the case of Bella Cherry, there is no long-winded backstory as to why Bella has chosen to be a sex worker, nor is time wasted by explaining any of the other women’s reasonings. They are in it for the money and/or, in Bella’s case, because she likes to perform sex acts in front of the camera. The lead actress in the film, Sofia Kappel, tries to capture the initial timidity and evolving sense of power in her portrayal of Bella Cherry. But it soon becomes clear that she is not a very convincing actress. This might be as much a fault of the screenplay which seems to offer us little more than stereotypical dirty old men in the porn business and vain young women who seem to have an exceptional need for sexual play.

Linnéa (Sofia Kappel) at her first porn audition

Thyberg adopts a documentary approach, observing the shoots with an almost clinical precision with none of the detail spared – from rampant erections to fetish gear, ejaculations, and personal plumbing. Once the scenes are finished the men are sometimes observed as considerate and caring for their co-star’s welfare – especially after one scene in which the girl is roughed up by two males, leaving her in a state of physical pain and mental anguish. And Bella seems unclear in her mind as to why she is doing rough sex scenes with violence. Even if the scenarios are fictional and those involved in the production are accommodating when the cameras are not rolling, she is scarred by the hardcore degradation and psychological torture.

Bella Cherry & her porn actress roomates at a party

Many of the actors are from the porn industry including “mogul” Mark Spiegler (a grandfatherly figure) whose Spiegler Girls represent the pinnacle of the “profession” to which many aspire. The names in the cast list will give clues to the others. The male porn stars are far from handsome and generally boorish. The male porn agents are all a rather ugly and disgusting lot – which probably comes as no surprise.

Bella’s nemesis Ava (Evelyn Claire)

As for the young women who perform in these porn films, we get a little insight into their lives in the male-dominant porn industry. At first, Bella is rather naïve and just learning the ropes of the porn business. Sharing a house with other young women with the same aspirations, she surely realizes that the climb to stardom is far more grueling than she imagined. Determined to succeed, Bella takes on increasingly more extreme scenes to get the attention of top producers. After a few months, she finds that she must perform at a level that attracts the top-notch porn directors. The garish costumes and outlandish make-up are all part of the business of the porn industry and its creation of fantasies for the legion of male fans who throng to a Las Vegas convention for a chance of real-life selfies with these female porn “stars.” Bella’s nemesis is a strikingly beautiful brunette (Evelyn Claire) who is usually the most photographed female porn actress. It is in Bella’s competition to rise to the pinnacle of porn stardom, that she feels the need to surpass this woman and stages her seeming triumph for the camera at the end of the film.

Kinky porn shoot in Pleasure

Director Thyberg depicts the transactional nature and male-driven culture of this world with an unflinching, direct visual style, although the filming seems awkward at times and the sex performances far from erotic. For most male viewers, the film was a bore, as real porn is readily available on the internet. I kept hoping the film might move into satire but it seemed unwilling and unable to do so. I am not sure what the women viewers in the audience at the AFI Film Festival made of the film.