Film Review – ‘Tom of Finland’ (2017)

The latest film from Dome Karukoski (‘The Grump’, ‘Heart of a Lion’) shows the life and process of Touko Laaksonen aka Tom of Finland. The Finnish artist drew erotic sketches of masculine figures of authority – policemen in uniform, bikers in leather, etc, etc. The well known images always display tight clothing, muscles… representations of butch, manly, macho stances. They’re obsessively sexualized, and stunning in their impression in gay art and lifestyle.

The biopic is well told. We follow Tom (Pekka Strang), and get to see, directly, his experience. He is a soldier in the war. He is a student of advertising for commercial domestic products. He sketches men posed in a homosexual light – in secret, and at times where it is illegal. He sends the pictures to American magazine ‘Physique Pictorial’. He travels to the States, where his work is exhibited and celebrated by different groups within the gay community.

The narrative doesn’t know if it wants to be linear or not. At times we jump to flashback. The opening shot is taken from the narrative point at the end of the film. In film-making this sometimes works as a device to show a circular story or an end point in a biopic that the audience is already familiar with. Here it seems to hinder the flow of the film somewhat.

That said, ‘Tom of Finland‘ clearly demonstrates the oppression from which the art was produced. It shows the dedication of Tom and his persistence in producing this level of work throughout his life. Strang delivers a nuanced performance in the lead, as do the supporting cast. Lauri Tilkanen is Tom’s lover Veli. Jessica Grabowski is his sister, Kaija.

The latter scenes are notably different to the rest of the film. Tom goes to visit some fans of his work in America. The poolside luxury and sheer bliss of Doug and Jack’s (Seumas Sargent and Jakob Oftebro) lifestyle is bright. This is opposed to the dimly lit night time secrecy of the cruising at the start.

The main issues arise from the structure and plot points. If only the film focussed on fewer strands of Tom’s life or hadn’t flipped between them so unpredictable, it would’ve been marvelous. That said, it still stands as a telling of a remarkable story. You will leave the screening in awe of the artistry and defiance of the protagonist. The account of this is well-acted and told through an intelligent and honest lens.

Zach Rodis |[rating=4]

Biography, Drama, LGBT | Finland, 2017 | 18 | 11th August 2017 (UK Cinema)| Peccadillo Pictures | Dir.Dome Karukoski |Jakob Oftebro, Werner Daehn, Jimmy Shaw, Lauri Tilkanen, Pekka Strang

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