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Director Ninja Thyberg Flips the Porn Camera With 'Pleasure'

  Early on in Pleasure, Ninja Thyberg’s searing debut feature about the L.A. porn industry, aspiring performer Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel) i...

Director Ninja Thyberg Flips the Porn Camera With 'Pleasure'

 

Early on in Pleasure, Ninja Thyberg’s searing debut feature about the L.A. porn industry, aspiring performer Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel) is awkwardly perched on a couch as her co-star (adult film actor John Strong, playing himself) films her. 


It’s Bella’s very first professional porn shoot after leaving Sweden for California with the ambition of becoming the next adult film superstar. Despite that lofty goal, the 19-year-old is more nervous than she wants to let on. Just minutes before, she nearly backed out of the whole thing. Now, the camera lens is squarely on her. 


“I want you to look at the camera, always,” Strong says. “Don’t look at me, look at the camera. Because you’re looking at the guy at home.”


The scene is a traditional heterosexual porn set-up, meant to create the illusion for male viewers that they are in the scene, face-to-face with the women in the frame. But in Pleasure, Thyberg isn’t playing that game; the director’s camera is omniscient, weaving around the set to capture the scene from all angles. 


Director Ninja Thyberg Flips the Porn Camera With 'Pleasure'



We initially see Bella through the camera’s viewfinder, before looping around to her perspective, and landing on her point of view: a very erect penis. Then, off we go again, to a wide-shot that shows not just the cast but also the porn director and crew, all usually absent from the frame. 


“The woman in a traditional heterosexual porn film is always the main object,” Thyberg tells Marie Claire in a Zoom interview ahead of Pleasure’s May 13 limited theatrical release. “Everything is arranged for the male perspective. It’s never about her.”


The opposite is true in Pleasure, which follows Bella on her disturbing and often brutal journey to become the next big porn star—whatever the cost. That means showing the many ways in which men control the business, but also how easily women can end up policing each other in this zero-sum game. Still, while Pleasure doesn’t shy away from explicit subject matter, some of its most emotionally satisfying moments are nudity-free. The funny intimacy of two women sharing a bathroom; a dog refusing to sit still while his owner films a live cam reel; a raucous pizza party after work—these scenes build a nuanced world inhabited by living, breathing people. 


In her very first role, 24-year-old Kappel delivers a fearless performance alongside professional porn actors including Chris Cock, Evelyn Claire, Dana DeArmond, and Reuvika Reustle, who stands out as Bella’s unapologetically raunchy friend Joy.


Ahead, Thyberg tells Marie Claire how she created a safe environment on set and the porn stereotypes she set out to challenge. 



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