Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Sundance with Abe: Pleasure

I’m thrilled to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the eighth time. This year, I’m not in Park City, Utah, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

Directed by Ninja Thyberg
World Cinema Dramatic Competition

The adult film industry produces a lot of content, and though many mainstream film audiences may not want to admit their familiarity with it, statistics suggest that it’s very widely viewed. It’s an area that has been explored many times in films and television series, seeking to bring the experience to curious filmgoers of those seeking fame and fortune in a business that often forces them to do things they are not at all comfortable. Blurring the lines between showcasing characters doing explicit acts and having the actors simulate that same material can happen, leading some to terming the resulting product essentially pornography in itself.

Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel) comes to Los Angeles from Sweden, eager for her first day on the job. What she experiences is incredible kindness and gentleness from nearly every person she works with, often in truly stark contrast to the violent nature of the scene that she is about to film or have just finished shooting. Her desire to become well-known leads her to consider rougher work, pushing her boundaries and exposing her to the hard truths of what it takes to succeed.

This film is inarguably graphic, and the disclaimer noting that, unlike most Sundance films this year, this one is in no way suitable for audiences under eighteen, isn’t quite sufficient. Its not entirely necessary imagery even just in its first ten minutes will surely be off-putting enough for some to stop watching, and it doesn’t exactly get better from there. Fortunately, it’s not all merely a parade of simulated sex, with a recognizable narrative that fleshes out Bella as a character trying to determine what her limits are in pursuit of something she believes will make her happy. That’s not to dismiss this film’s entirely uncensored nature but to clarify that a story does exist in between all those moments.

What’s less definitive is the responsibility of the message being communicated here. The notion that the more vicious and invasive a scene is, the nicer and more comforting the male actors and directors will be is likely wishful thinking since the balance of power in those moments surely leads in real life to considerable abuse. While this film does boast a strong cast, which includes Kappel in her very impressive feature film debut, the narrative, which becomes even darker and more unpleasant as the film goes on, feels problematic at worst and misdirected at best.


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