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Tom of Finland — the movie reviewed

6.3.2017

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Having now seen Dome Karukoski’s new movie about the iconic gay artist, Tom of Finland, I can share my thoughts about it.

In general, Tom of Finland is a very sympathetic biography, and Pekka Strang does a good job in the main role. The story proceeds from World War II in Finland to the 1980s in Los Angeles. As it is customary in nowadays biographical movies, the storyline isn’t linear but there are flashbacks and jumps from one era to another. In this respect, I think Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar is one of the most perfect examples of masterful non-linear editing and it does excel Tom of Finland. In the latter film, one doesn’t always know right away which time period Tom is in.

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Certain details made me feel critical about the movie. First of all, the story of how Tom met his mate Nipa (Lauri Tilkanen) differs essentially from how it actually happened, as explained, e.g., recently in Helsingin Sanomat monthly supplement (read article in Finnish). Another dramaturgical change is how Tom encountered certain oppression (police raids etc.) against practicing homosexuals. He is rather used as a token of the general vicissitudes that gay men were subjected to, but it remains unclear if he himself experienced that all or in that particular form. Also the artistic antagonism between Tom and his sister, Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky), feels unfounded. In some scenes, old Tom’s leather jacket seems not to sit properly on him.

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In some respects Tom of Finland is therefore a reversed counterpart to another Finnish movie, Avskedet (1982). It proposes to tell a general story about a bisexual woman, but in reality it uses (is based upon) the life on Vivica Bandler, who loved Tove Jansson, among others. Tom of Finland, on the other hand, proposes to tell a specific story of a certain homosexual man, but in reality uses aspects from Tom’s life to tell a general story about homosexual men in 1940s to 1980s.

One weak point is the dialogue — in the Finnish portion, it doesn’t always sound natural and spot-on. Also English and German are spoken in this movie.

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Usually in Finland movies are subtitled in both Finnish and Swedish, but, possibly for the first time in history, showings in some Helsinki cinemas present this Finnish movie with subtitles in English. Apparently Helsinki has now become an international metropole. (I saw the movie in the traditional way, with Finnish and Swedish subtitles.)

As in many Karukoski’s other films, there is a feel of keeping it safe which leads to certain blandness. In Finland, the movie is rated “12” and there aren’t any explicit sex scenes and even Tom’s drawings are shown cautiously. In my opinion, the movie could have been a bit longer and sharper — it’s not epic yet.

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However, despite my reservations I can still recommend the movie. It is aimed at the general audience, it recounts some episodes in the history of gay liberation and the overall atmosphere of the movie is that of empowerment. Sets, locations and crowd scenes look great, even if the movie doesn’t strike one as especially imaginative. — If you want to see a really impressive movie about Tom of Finland, try Ilppo Pohjola’s documentary Daddy and the Muscle Academy (1991). The DVD releases include Tom’s unedited interview rushes, almost 100 minutes of them. It would be enticing to see that documentary and a mouthful of bonus materials released on Blu-ray with a better transfer. Criterion, do you read us…?

One curious detail: some scenes included in the theatrical trailer are not present in the movie proper. One of them is Tom’s acknowledging of his war-time affair with a fighter pilot to his sister, another Tom’s quitting his job at the advertising agency. As it is customary with this director, we will probably have a selection of deleted scenes on the Blu-ray, with director’s commentary.

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I would give this movie 6 stars out of 10.

Tom of Finland has already precipitated Dome Karukoski’s career upwards: he is negotiating with Keanu Reeves about filming The Starling in the United States. Karukoski is now in the same position as Renny Harlin was in 1986.

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Note: All the screenshots come from the theatrical trailer and they do not represent the image quality of the digital cinema pack.

From → Elokuva

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