Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure: “The porn industry as a backdrop to evoke the …

She signed what will remain as one of the shocks of the year, and notably won the Jury Prize at the last Deauville Festival: the Swedish director Ninja Thyberg evokes “Pleasure”, her immersion in the world of porn.

Remember the names of Sofia Kappel and Ninja Thyberg. Are, respectively, the main actress and the director of Pleasure. A shock and fascinating dive into the pornographic industry alongside a star in the making, who caused a sensation at the Deauville American Film Festival, where the feature film left with the Jury Prize, after having aroused a nice wave of enthusiasm.

When we meet the Swedish director, who signs here her first feature (and extends the experience initiated with the short of the same name a few years earlier), the official screening has not yet taken place. But it did not take long, nor wait for the public’s feedback and the rewards, to understand that we had in front of us a great future, sure of it, to whom we owe one of the major films of this year 2021.

AlloCiné: Did the idea of ​​making this film come about as a result of the short film, also called “Pleasure”, that you directed? Or was the short film just the first step in the project?
Ninja thyberg : I already knew when I started making the short that I wanted to make a longer version of it. But I didn’t have the resources at the time because I was at the start of my career. So I had to start with a short film and to make it I did a lot of research. In any way you can: by reading books, watching documentaries or searching on Google.

And I said, in interviews, that I wanted to portray these people behind the stereotypes of porn, because it was taking place behind the scenes of a shoot. But I had never set foot on a set, and I had never met the people I was trying to portray, so I felt a little hypocritical after doing short press.

So I decided that in order to do the long version, I really had to go to Los Angeles to see this world with my own eyes. And that’s what I did for about five years, going back and forth between Sweden and Los Angeles, to dig my way into the heart of this world.

Have you considered making a documentary out of it, or was fiction more appropriate to develop your point of view?
Not really. Even though I take a lot of inspiration from reality, I want to tell a story. Using the porn industry as a backdrop, as a metaphor to paint a picture of patriarchy, capitalism or that kind of power structure, rather than pointing fingers at specific people in that milieu. Many people can relate to what these people are going through, even being part of different industries and environments.

If you want to say something about “male gaze”, it is in the world of porn that it applies in the most extreme way.

This is one of the things that makes your film so interesting: what you say can be applied to other settings, like when you put the female and male gazes against each other. It’s relevant in cinema in general, not just porn.
Exactly. I have always been very interested in the study of the male gaze. Both how it works, but also how it affects you. This is how it all started for me. When I was young and realized how much media images have shaped me and shaped my identity in favor of men.

It is also for this reason that I chose the world of porn for my film: if you want to say something about the “male gauze”, this is where it applies in the most extreme way. But, as you said, this can also apply to images from more traditional cinema, or from the media.

Beyond the opposition between “male gaze” and “female gaze”, this questioning of the gaze also applies in the choice of what you show and do not show, in the most raw scenes in particular.
It wasn’t about making the film too explicit or focusing on those scenes, as that is not the subject of the film. But rather to show the other things that you don’t see in a pornographic film, turning the camera around to reveal, with a female point of view, what Bella is experiencing, rather than what the porn viewer is watching. usually.

But people mostly reacted to male nudity. We are used to seeing naked women, and these are considered to be art: when you go to a museum, there are 90% naked women. Male nudity, especially when it’s frontal or in an erection, is usually seen as a threat, or something dangerous, vulgar. Showing her was also part of the idea of ​​reversing the gaze.

Did the censorship force you to cut scenes or shots?
No, because it was important not to slip away.

Ninja thyberg's pleasure: "the porn industry as a backdrop to evoke the...
OLIVIER BORDE / BESTIMAGE

Ninja Thyberg at the Deauville Festival

Are the reactions different depending on the country? And between men and women?
Yes, but more from one country to another than between men and women. The United States is the most conservative on this, while Sweden is not at all a problem.

It is all the more paradoxical, even hypocritical, that the United States is the most conservative when we know that it is also the first pornographic industry in the world.
Definitively.

Has “Pleasure” been seen by people in the industry? And what was their reaction?
Some people have seen it, and their reactions are quite varied. Put simply, women are the most positive and they like things to be finally shown from their perspective. Some men are more mixed. I think they had other images in mind as they read the script, and it might have been a shock to them to see themselves portrayed from that other point of view, and to see what they weren’t for. not used to it.

But I felt it was important to do that, and I hope the film will have an impact on the industry and help move some things forward. Because there are a lot of strong movements within the industry to improve working conditions, so I hope Pleasure will help move in the right direction.

Pleasure: how to sell such a sultry film?

Did the fact that “Pleasure” was part of the selection of the Cannes Film Festival 2020 have an impact on the film, even if this edition could not take place?
Sure ! There is nothing bigger than Cannes, so it has always been my dream to participate. Especially with a film about what is considered to be the worst type of cinema: being able to lead the people who work in this industry to this more prestigious cinema, alongside “the crème de la crème of movies” [en français dans le texte, ndlr], that was my goal. I’m sad that I couldn’t have presented him on the spot, but the selection was the most important thing for him to be recognized.

The film is presented as an edifying story, but it is not moralistic. You show difficult things there but with colorful images. You don’t judge. There is a remarkable balance that goes against what one might expect and fear.
Thank you ! It was my goal, to get the audience to think for themselves. This therefore involved painting a portrait that was as realistic as possible, but which did not point too much in one direction, and allowed the public to form their opinion. Because I really hope the film will encourage discussion and debate.

I hope that Pleasure will have an impact on the industry and help move some things forward.

Has finding the right actress for the role of Bella been as difficult as you imagine?
Yes, it was very difficult and it took a year and a half. We searched all over Sweden and came into contact with over 2,000 girls and young women, before finally finding Sofia. And she had never played or done anything before. But it turned out that she had an incredible talent, and she is truly amazing. She carries the entire film on her shoulders. And everyone who plays with them is from the porn industry, they’re not mainstream actors either. She does an amazing job.

Have you considered hiring a porn actress for the role?
It would have been interesting if we had someone of that age in Sweden, but we didn’t. I auditioned everyone, confirmed actresses and amateurs. And casting industry people for other roles is not something I had decided in advance. We even had traditional actors audition until the month before the start of filming. And it turned out that those who got the roles were the ones who were most suited.

Part of the film is about consent, and I imagine that must have been a subject between Sofia and you on the set as well. Have you set limits between yourselves?
Sure ! We prepared a lot and went over everything: what we were going to film, how, where its limits were. It was very important, especially for the toughest scenes. It was like doing stunts and you had to rehearse a lot, find the limits to which we could push things.

And when we shot the scenes, especially the toughest one in the movie, I asked everyone on the crew to say “Cut!” at any time. Not just her, so as not to create the same situation described on the screen, that even though you can say stop, you can be under pressure. It’s not easy to say stop when you know something is expected of you.

Ninja thyberg's pleasure: "the porn industry as a backdrop to evoke the...
The Jokers Films

Sofia Kappel in Pleasure

Do you still plan to broach the subject of sex in a future film?
Yes, this is a recurring theme with me.

Why are you so interested in talking about it through your films?
Particularly because it is a taboo. But also because I’m interested in genres and how media images shape our identities and our sexualities. And sex, the way it’s seen in mainstream media today, revolves around the same stereotypes of men and women, bringing out ideas about what a man and a woman are meant to be – the man is supposed to be tall and the woman supposed to be short for example.

All of these things are visible when we approach this topic. And it is for this reason that it interests me. Besides the fact that it’s a taboo and people don’t want to talk about it. It therefore seems important to me to dig deeper into this area.

Interview by Maximilien Pierrette in Deauville on September 4, 2021

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