Director: Joscha Bongard (Germany). Year of Release: 2022
Early on in Pornfluencer, we see an unknown user clicking a link on a porn site to Youngcouple9598. A typed message appears on the computer screen introducing the user as a film maker who’s looking for a Verified Couple, with whom he could make a “sex-positive” documentary film. It is not long before we are knocking on the door of the Cyprus home of Nico Nice and Jamie Young (not their real names).
Nico and Jamie are a couple and are therefore part of the theoretically less problematic side of the porn industry. They film their own videos of consensual sex, then make them available – at a price – on their own website. They encourage people to visit the site by posting first TikTok videos of them (mainly Jamie) dancing, then something a little more salacious on youtube before posting Twitter links to the harder core stuff.
Both of them are incredibly smiley and initially come across as very sympathetic. When they explain that they “earned” €10,000 in their first month, a graphic appears explaining how more that €30,000 was actually paid, but bad Big Porn took a massive cut. You do lose a little good will for them once they start talking. They explain how their heroes are Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg and spend a little too much time talking about business models.
At one stage Nico is a little too frank. Asked whether he would like porn to lose some of its stigma, he says on a social level, of course he would – sex is nothing to be ashamed of. Then he pauses for thought. Actually, he says, if porn lost its stigma, then there’d be loads of other people doing his job and he wouldn’t be able to charge as much. With this in mind, he’d rather keep the stigma and make more money.
There is little sex in the film, which means that it feels less voyeuristic than it could have been, though we still seem to be intruding on things that are none of our business. The sex that we see is perfunctory, boring even – both to watch and to perform. Jamie in particular seems to spend an inordinate amount of time waiting for her boyfriend to get ready for action. The money aside, this is not a film that is desperately trying to sell us the glamour of the porn business.
The more you watch, the more you realise that their relationship may be a little more toxic than they say – and maybe even believe. There are several scenes of their morning ritual, each standing on their own in front of the bathroom mirror making self affirmations. But while Jamie’s mantras are statements like “I am beautiful” and “People like me”, Nico’s are more like “I am better than anyone else in bed” and “all women enjoy my penis”.
If the distinction between their affirmations may seem trivial, we get a little more context when Nico explains how he got into all this. He says it was through watching Pick-Up Artist videos, of which we are shown a few. Some of the Artists’ faces are pixillated, presumably because they do not come out of this looking good. The videos are of men – only men – telling their male audience how they can get a date basically by playing on their potential partner’s lack of self-worth.
Jamie watches on, saying how great the videos are, adding how great they have made Nico. We remember how she introduced herself. Nico is her first boyfriend and she was a virgin before she met him. Until she was about 16, she was painfully shy and barely able to talk to anyone. Then she met the love of her life after he followed the advice of one of his videos and he picked her up at a club.
You feel that Jamie means what she says. Her joy at seeing Nico, their continuous kissing and embracing seem to be genuine. But she exudes the aura of a Stepford wife. They talk of having set up their business as a couple, but you wonder exactly how equal the relationship is. She wouldn’t mind having sex once a week, and of course sometimes she has a period. He needs sex every day, and while Jamie is thinking of giving up and having kids, Nico talks of moving into gang bangs.
The film does prompt you to think about the ethics of documentaries which refuse to intervene. We just see a slice of Nico and Jamie’s life, when everything is going well. It looks like she naively believe that everything will continue like this, while he is already planning his exit. Or maybe they’re both performing, aware that some of the film’s audience might make their way to their lucrative website. Either way, it would be interesting to see them in 10 years,
Ultimately know, I think that we’re being encouraged to take pleasure from watching an abusive relationship. However interesting this may be to a documentary film maker, I’m not sure that this is ethically viable. And you just know that there’s some Incel watching and noting down the websites of the Pick-Up Artists. Pornfluencer is a well-made film, but one which leaves you feeling uncomfortable, and not in a good way.