Review by Savina Petkova @SavinaPetkova

Directed by

Ninja Thyberg


Evelyn Claire Mark Spiegler Sofia Kappel


The 2013 short predecessor was a strong calling card.


A sumptuous sting.

In Retrospect.

Feels like the first film of its kind.

A young woman sets out to become the next adult film superstar in Ninja Thyberg’s audacious feature debut.

From its very opening, Pleasure denies its viewers dominance: the kind inherent to pornographic consumption, as the black screen vibrates with moans, growling and affirmations of a suitably nasty kind. Deprived of explicit imagery but peppered with salacious – and ultimately banal – ‘porn talk’, the establishing shot hints at the provocative game Swedish filmmaker Ninja Thyberg invites the audience to with her feature debut. Pleasure is both sweet and sour as a coming of age story, following 19-year old Swede Linnéa (Sofia Kappel) in her journey to become the next big LA porn star armed with the coquettish pseudonym ‘Bella Cherry’.

While offering a candid account of sex work in the mainstream porn industry, the film also allows for a process of gradual acquaintance. There’s an insistent intimacy in the way Sophie Winqvist’s inquisitive camerawork probes every corner; be it of the frame, or the labyrinths of consent. It’s the hunger for power in the adult movie business in particular that has fascinated Thyberg for a long time. Six years of field research and decades of reading feminist theory have now yielded this audacious feature. With it, it seems like cinema has caught up with the multivalence of the debate. Thyberg exposes the circulations of bodily capital but does so through variations and character reinvention. Most of the actors in the film are industry figures, some of them emblematic (agent Mark Spiegler, director Aiden Starr, actor Evelyn Claire), with the exception of its star-protagonist, Bella.

Sofia Kappel is astonishing in her acting debut and carries the role with levity that is nothing short of mesmerising – she moves between the timidity of “stage fright” and brazen self-assertion effortlessly. While these ambivalent moments find themselves interspersed throughout the narrative, the rhythm and pace of how it actually unfolds only deepens the two opposing forces governing Bella Cherry’s drive: from doe-eyed amateur to prime hustler. The power games are often what’s missing in discussions of sex work: that it is less about the latter than the former, and Kappel’s magnetic performance channels this hierarchy in the way she locks the camera’s gaze and then makes it her own. Through tempered smiles, curious glances, and later, a porcelain facade – Kappel subverts a role which is bound to physicality and lets the film’s emotional undercurrents play out on her face.

Disrupting familiar patterns, the film is committed to providing alternative points of view and underappreciated camera angles in the destabilisation of conventional porn aesthetics. At the level of sound, Karl Frid’s score imbues many of these particular scenes with sublime affect, weaving R&B beats and synths with bursts of choir singing. By replacing one, more earthly transcendence, with another, Pleasure confirms itself as a film that lays bare the paradoxes of complying to a flawed system, and critiques the commercialisation of bodies with orgasmic poeticism.

Published 13 Jun 2022

Tags: MUBI Ninja Thyberg Pleasure Sofia Kappel


The 2013 short predecessor was a strong calling card.


A sumptuous sting.

In Retrospect.

Feels like the first film of its kind.

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