Entertainment

porn-industry drama that’s a Harlot’s Progress for our time

First-time actress Kappel throws herself into it all with impressive commitment, while the supporting roles are convincingly taken on by veterans in the field, some of whom play versions of themselves. Revika Reustle is particularly good as Joy, Bella’s cheerful ally and rival, with whom she lives in a seedy suburban stable of aspiring models. On set, before filming begins, consent is crafted through cartoonishly thick paperwork and filmed, on-record confessions — and Pleasure’s focus on this first makes you wonder if you’re watching an industry show its best in front of the cameras.

However, we soon wonder how much security these supposed protective measures offer. In an utterly horrifying sequence, Bella presents herself for what is euphemistically dubbed a “rough scene,” which consists of her being abused so relentlessly and sadistically that any shred of achievement on her part soon collapses in genuine fear and shock. (The director – i.e. the fictional one – doesn’t seem to be able to tell the difference, or perhaps has a vested interest in not being able to.) Here is the language of empowerment – “You are such a strong woman”, “I know you can do this ‘ and so on – becomes just another weapon of coercion, and the instantaneous disappearance of empathy when Bella finally tearfully refuses to continue is one of Pleasure’s most telling moments.

Here is another important unanswered question. Given that Bella produces so much of the material that sees sex as synonymous with the degradation of young women, what does that say about the men who consume it? But aside from a brief stint at a Las Vegas fan convention, where plump-faced loners take awkward selfies at meet-and-greets, the connoisseurs of her work remain invisible: their only representative is the camera itself, which Bella is encouraged to maintain eye contact at all times and whose blank, emotionless stare suggests a seedy younger cousin from 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL.

How do the performers feel about the appetites they both satiate and fuel? And why does fame in this area so often look like the opposite of worship? Perhaps some blind spots were only to be expected: there’s more to the subject than a single feature could possibly cover, especially a debut. But Thyberg knows which positions she wants to work in – and my goodness, does she do it.


18 certs, 109 mins. In cinemas now and on MUBI from Friday 17 June

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/0/pleasure-review-porn-industry-drama-harlots-progress-time/ porn-industry drama that’s a Harlot’s Progress for our time

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