Tom of Finland

 

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Almost half a century of gay history from the viewpoint of a gay man famed for his drawings.

 
Tom of Finland

  

This Finnish drama from director Dome Karukoski is a biopic about Touko Laaksonen, who lived from 1920 to 1991. That name is probably unfamiliar here, and even Tom of Finland, the name under which his erotic gay drawings were sold, may not be well known in this country outside of gay circles. His macho images, with bikers and men wearing leathers a speciality, became world-famous in the 1970s and the 1980s and they certainly helped to underline the fact that many gay men did not fit the effeminate stereotype of the period. Undoubtedly these drawings were considered cutting-edge and raunchy in their time, but these things change and now that explicit pornography is readily available it is rather surprising that our censor's certificate for this film is an '18'.

 

In fact, because of its certificate, Tom of Finland, may attract viewers who will be taken aback to discover that for a film centred on gay lives it should be such a sedate work. Personally, I have no problem with that tone, and the film does arrive here at an apt time to fit in with the many television items, both dramatic and documentary, that have been marking the fiftieth anniversary of the passing of the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, that landmark legislation decriminalising homosexual acts previously against the law. Tom of Finland may offer scenes set in Helsinki, Berlin and Los Angeles, but its portrayal of gay men being hounded stands as a reminder to all of how positive changes now widely accepted have only come about in recent times.

 

In that respect, Tom of Finland is a welcome film but, unfortunately, there is a great deal that feels wrong in it. We first encounter our hero as a soldier during the war and then follow his life and career including the twenty-eight years that he lived with his partner Veli Makinen. But, despite the wide ranging time scale, Kasukoski never gives us any precise indication of how much time is passing (thus only vague references to an illness nudge us into realising that we have suddenly reached the 1980s and Aids). Furthermore, while it is presented as a true story, albeit with embellishments, the drama in Tom of Finland often seems misjudged: initially, it seems that the closeted Veli is also attracting Tom's sister, Kaija, but, despite the implication of a hidden romantic triangle, it is never clear to what extent Kaija comes to recognise and accept the fact that Veli is her brother's lover; of two deaths in the story one that should be crucial is handled in a remarkably indirect way and the other appears sentimental and fictional. It’s also the case that while Lauri Tilkanen (Veli) and Jesica Grabowsky (Kaija) age hardly at all, Pekka Strang, well chosen for the title role, all too obviously visits the make-up department. Consequently, doubts about the film surface at regular intervals (another one involves the production by Tom of a keepsake from a German (Taisto Oksanen) which he just happens to have on him at a moment when it is needed). Nevertheless, I was never bored by Tom of Finland and it is possible that my rating is somewhat lacking in generosity.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Pekka Strang, Lauri Tilkanen, Jessica Grabowsky, Taisto Oksanen, Jakob Oftebro, Seumas Sargent, Werner Daehn, Kara Hietalahti, Maymon Maria Buttinger.

 

Dir Dome Karukoski, Pro Aleksi Bardy, Miia Haavisto and Annika Sucksdorff, Screenplay Aleksi Bardy, from a story by Dome Karukoski and Aleksi Bardy, Ph Lasse Frank Johannessen, Pro Des Christian Olander, Ed Harri Ylönen, Music Holder Gudnadóttir and Lasse Enersen, Costumes Anna Vilppunen.

 

Helsinki Films Oy/Anagram/Fridthjof Film/Film i väst-Peccadillo Pictures.
116 mins. Finland/Sweden/Denmark/Germany/UK/France/Norway. 2017. Rel: 11 August 2017. Cert. 18.