Tom of Finland, a biographical Finnish drama directed by Dome Karukoski from a screenplay cleverly mounted by his habitual collaborator Aleksi Bardy, is probably going to cause a sensation since it is centered on an interesting character, features solid performances, and evinces technical competence.
However, Karukoski was unable to maintain the grip and high quality levels after the first half. I found a gradual loss of responsiveness and fascination as the story moved forward.
The film tells the story of Finnish Touko Laaksonen, better known by the artistic name of Tom of Finland, a decorated WWII lieutenant turned into international homoerotic draughtsman who became very popular in gay male circles.
“…a decorated WWII lieutenant turned into international homoerotic draughtsman.”
Touko (Pekka Strang) had his first sexual experiences during the war when the Finnish troops were stationed in Helsinki defending the country from the Russian invaders. Captain Alijoki (Taisto Oksanen) and a young country boy named Nipa (Lauri Tilkanen) were among his casual partners and they both bump into him again after the war, playing different roles in his life. The former saves him from an imbroglio in Berlin after his censored drawings and wallet had been stolen, while the latter becomes his partner for life, encouraging him to expose himself in all fronts rather than hide.
After the war, Touko suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder and it’s his sister, Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky), who takes good care of him. She’s also a skilled if insecure artist that accepts her brother’s nature and respects his choices but disapproves his daring artistic work, even at a mature age.
“…disapproves his daring artistic work, even at a mature age.”
The film succeeds in depicting the struggle of an unprecedented artist who had to live so many years in the shadow due to his homosexuality and the strong repression against the gay communities. However, it loses considerable steam since the moment that Touko’s trip to America is represented. This final section feels overlong, less expeditious in its narrative process, and pictures a few redundant and often cheesy scenes like when Doug, Touko’s American friend and admirer, met his partner Jack at the gym or when police officers break into Doug’s L.A. house in search of a criminal.
Strang and Grabowsky deliver fantastic, in-depth performances, shaping the siblings’ personalities with sensitive resoluteness.
“The film succeeds in depicting the struggle of an unprecedented artist…”
Tom of Finland, which competed for Best International Narrative Feature at Tribeca Film Festival, also benefited from the admirable work by cinematographer Lasse Frank Johannessen and the strong production design. In contrast, the technical aspect that didn’t work so well was the artificial makeup of our hero at an older age – anyone remembers the rubber face of Benjamin Button?
Tom of Finland (2016) – Written by Aleksi Bardy and directed by Dome Karukoski. Starring Pekka Strang, Jessica Grabowsky, Lauri Tilkanen, Taisto Oksanen.
6 out of 10