TOM OF FINLAND – movie review

  • TOM OF FINLAND

    Kino Lorber
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B+
    Director:  Dome Karukoski
    Written by: Aleksi Bardy based on a story by Aleksi Bardy and Dome Karukoski
    Cast:  Pekka Strang, Lauri Tilkanen, Jessica Grabowsky, Taisto Oksanen, Seumas Sargent, Niklas Hogner, Jakob Oftebro, Kari Hietalahti
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/7/17
    Opens: October 13, 2017
    Tom of Finland Movie Poster

    Given that Norway and Denmark were invaded and occupied by Germany while Sweden maintained its neutrality during World War 2, it may strike some as strange that Finland, a country that is geographically part of Scandinavia (at least its northern part), had actually allied itself with Germany in part because of its hostility to Russia.  What’s more its language is quite different from Norwegian and Danish, as Finnish is related to Hungarian and Estonian.  With “Tom of Finland,” director Dome Karukoski, adapting a story of his own together with Aleksi Bardy, takes a great many steps thematically from his 2014 film “The Grump.”  The title grump is a man who thinks that everything in the past was better than conditions are now. By contrast, Touko Laaksonen, who is to become Tom of Finland, was a soldier in World War 2 who returns to his home only to find that gay people like him are persecuted by the police.  Decades later he is to become a hero to the gay community and presumably who straights who support efforts toward social equality. As the tagline of the film states, “Elokuva rohkeudesta, rakkaudesta ja vapaudesta,” or, “A film of courage, love, and freedom.”  Things for Tom are a great deal better in his latter years than they had ever been previously.


    As played by Pekka Strang, Touka is seen over a fifty-year span which opens with his service in the war against the Russians.  There he first becomes aware that his sexual desires are directed toward other man.  The glances he throws to some others are sometimes returned, his come hither looks reciprocated occasionally.  When he returns, he shares a home with his homophobic sister Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky).  Both work in the same company advertising company where he gains plaudits from his boss for his excellent sketches.  In one scene, he selects a man and a woman to sit together and act as though electricity were passing between them. Photographing the duo, he quickly translates the picture to paper.

    When Veli (Lauri Tilkanen), a strikingly handsome closeted gay man signs on with Kaija and Touko as a lodger, the two men become a couple, encouraging Tom to produce ever-more openly gay sketches including not only men with muscles but also with huge appendages.  These drawings show muscles so exaggerated that one may wonder whether he is actually subverting a stereotype in the minds of straights.  The sketches make their way to Los Angeles where he is mentored and then patronized by Doug (Seumas Sargent).  Ultimately he will design 3500 of these for an exhibition in the States, though a few of the sketches show men in World War two German uniforms, making some believe that he is pro-Nazi. Tom looks impressed enough with the warm, gay-accepted state of California perhaps to regret that he was not American.  Most impressive to him and to us in the audience is a scene of police running to Doug’s swimming pool during a party and, instead of making arrests, they simply want to know whether anyone had seen a bank robber they are chasing.

    The momentum toward gay acceptance here in America takes a step back as AIDS infects thousands, but despite homophobic picketing, the action builds to an uplifting climax (so to speak).  This biopic is thoroughly entertaining, giving the straight world a look at a hero who is well known to the gay community here and in Europe.  The ensemble performances are believable, though a fair chunk of years had to be ignored to fit the movie’s span of just under two hours.  The film is handsomely photographed by Lasse Frank in Sweden, Germany and Spain.

    “Tom of Finland” is Finland’s entry to our Oscar competition.  In Finnish and English with a touch of German; English subtitles.

    Unrated.  116 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

NO DRESS CODE REQUIRED – movie review

  • NO DRESS CODE REQUIRED (Etiqueta no rigurosa)

    Outsider Pictures/Strand Releasing
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: A-
    Director:  Cristina Herrera Borquez
    Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/16/17
    Opens: November 3, 2017

    There is every reason to applaud the wisdom of New York City’s Human Rights Watch Festival to accept “No Dress Code Required” for exhibition since, after all, that two people in love have the right to get married is accepted all over the world. But there is an exception.  In some of the more benighted countries, the public may consider it bizarre for a couple of the same sex to join together in matrimony, and even further, some states consider even being homosexual is deserving of a death sentence.  The good people of Western Europe and the United States now proclaim the right of same sex couples to join together and enjoy legal benefits, and surprisingly, a strongly Catholic country like Mexico now permits such unions, thanks to their supreme court’s decision.  But the population of Mexico, like that of the U.S., is divided, and even though marriages are performed in progressive Mexico City, some smaller states have resisted the law of that land.
    No Dress Code Required Poster #1
    Enter Victor and Fernando, beauticians living in Mexicali, Baja California.  The homophobic governor of Baja and the mayor of Mexicali cite religious reason for refusing to grant same sex marriages, not unlike the case of Kim Davis in Kentucky, whose job it is to issue marriage licenses to all couples but was sent to jail by a federal judge for refusing to do her job.  The authorities in Mexicali are hell-bent on disobeying the decision of the court, putting the persistent Fernando and Victor into a bureaucratic maze that delayed their nuptials for years.  They claimed that the couple had dementia.  There were discrepancies in the certificate that attested they attended a premarital class, which taught such bits of information as that God will join you in your marriage bed.

    They dreamed up technicalities that would win awards for creativity.  One administrator claimed that the signatures on a paper certifying their eligibility to be married had discrepancies.  There was a problem with their birth certificates, which had been issued to them under a different Mexican government.  They denied them a reservation date with the civil authorities, and when the couple did finally confirm a November date, the reservation was canceled.  But the two had friends, best of all being their lawyer who, if he had charged them normal rates, put it enough billable hours to allow him to retire.

    Happily for the movie audience, Fernando and Victor are not ciphers or people as dull as our Rex Tillerson.  They are downright charismatic, displaying their affection publicly and determined to go through all the red tape rather than be married immediately in Mexico City because they wanted others in the same boat to profit from their litigation.

    As photographed by Cristina Herrera Borquez, the director, and by Cristina Flores Valanzuela, Mexicali looks like just a small Mexican town projecting the small-town hatreds of its officials.  To coin a cliché, you certainly don’t have to be gay to side strongly with the loving couple: you need only to be free of reactionary thinking.  This is 2017: there is no need for Baja California to have the mindset of some Middle Eastern dictatorships.  You will root for the union of these two principled people and their large array of friends and supporters.

    This is an engrossing documentary, using some animation but none is really needed.  You will feel like a grandstander at the Super Bowl cheering your team, the team of all people of integrity: that of Fernando and Victor.

    Unrated.  94 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?