Review: Sofia Kappel Gives a Riveting Performance in Disturbing 'Pleasure"

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday May 13, 2022

'Pleasure'  (Source:Neon)

Disquieting, disturbing, and oddly touching, Ninja Thyberg's exploration of the porn industry through the eyes of a porn star hopeful is effective, largely because of newcomer's Sofia Kappel's riveting debut performance.

In "Pleasure," Bella (Kappel) is a nineteen-year-old Swedish girl who arrives in Los Angeles ready to make her name in the porn world. A go-getter, she is fearless in pushing herself into situations that could further her career — or prove disastrous.

She quickly signs with a small agency and holes up in a ratty apartment with a few other porn gals, including Joy (Zelda Morrison), who becomes her best friend. But as she navigates the industry's big-wigs, she pushes herself even farther and allows herself to be involved in porn that borders on the extreme. Violence, degradation, pain... she is willing to give it her all if it means becoming the best in the industry. But, as expected, she isn't treated all that well, and she doesn't have the maturity to handle some of the situations she is thrust into. As a result, the industry begins to take its toll on her.

While all of this sounds like what you'd expect from a "mainstream" movie about porn, Thyberg brilliantly avoids the clichés to offer something more authentic. Bella isn't a gal with an abusive childhood who jumps into porn to work out her family issues. She's a girl that "likes cock" and enjoys her sexuality. She is a strong, independent woman who just happens to find herself in some situations that cause her to rethink her choices and how it's starting to affect her.

When she begins to favor her career over friendships, or to act out her abuse on others, it's then that Bella understands the toll her choice of work has taken on her. This isn't so much the result of the type of work she does, but how the industry (read: any industry) can warp someone's psyche into thinking that in order to get ahead they have to sell their souls. Who can't relate to that?

To be clear, "Pleasure" doesn't pull any punches. It is incredibly graphic (many of the supporting characters are played by actual porn actors), and there are some scenes that are gut-wrenching to watch. Credit Kappel for dragging us along on the ride and making it seem so real that it sometimes reads as a documentary.

While many will shy away from the graphic sexual nature of the film, there are spot-on references that detail the difference between a healthy work environment and one that isn't. It also illustrates the difference between women helping women as opposed to men play-acting their concern for women by simply using buzzwords and manipulation.

For example, as Bella goes from set to set, opening herself up to more intense scenes, she is well-cared for when a female director is in charge. Both men and women check on her to make sure she's okay and comfortable, and everything is clean and professional. Cut to another job where she is alone with three men — two actors and a director — who warn her that she will be degraded and pushed around physically. She understands that's the role, but when it becomes too real, she balks. Of course, she is manipulated into completing the scene by a director that attempts to show concern and care, but is actually just patronizing her and guilting her to get the scene.

Both of these incidents play into how Bella reacts to situations that follow, and inform the final moments of the film.

Thyberg never judges Bella or any of the women that enter the porn industry, and doesn't make it a typical tawdry affair damning the industry for all the horrors in the world. Thyberg shows all aspects of the world using it as an analogy for anyone trying to climb the ladder of an industry that can sometimes use and abuse people before spitting them out and starting over.

As for Kappel, her performance is one of the best of the year. Daring and raw, she lets you into all aspects of Bella's character making her one of the most well-rounded creations seen on film in a long time. If you can navigate how unsettling the film is as a whole, it's worth it to marvel at Kappel's debut.

"Pleasure" is unrated and will premiere in theaters May 13th.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.

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