Film Review: TOM OF FINLAND (Finland/Sweden/Denmark/Germany/USA 2016) ***

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Tom of Finland Poster

Award-winning filmmaker Dome Karukoski brings to screen the life and work of artist Touko Valio Laaksonen (aka Tom of Finland), one of the most influential and celebrated figures of twentieth century gay culture.


Dome Karukoski


Aleksi Bardy (screenplay), Aleksi Bardy (story by) | 6 more credits »


Who is TOM OF FINLAND?  Straight people will likely have no clue who or what Tom is.  And with reason.  It is comic drawn gay pornography – weathermen drawn with their big dicks.  Gays are totally familiar with Tom of Finland.  They likely grew up with the drawings of Tom. TOM OF FINLAND popularized comic drawn porn as well as the look of leather men in dark glasses and big bulges in their tight trousers with a bit of S&M.  Even famous Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki had his cool characters in films like LENINGRAD COWBOYS GO AMERICA and CALAMARI UNION sport that look.  And if that is not enough, there is a very popular gay dance bar in the heart of gay Berlin named Tom of Finland.  And finally the film.  TOM OF FINLAND the film is the biographical drama of  the man who invented (or drew) the character.

The plot involves Touko Laaksonen aka Tom of Finland (Pekka Strang) returning home to Finland after serving in World War II.  In post-war Helsinki, he makes a name for himself with his homoerotic drawings of muscular men.  Before finding fame, Laaksonen finds challenges from his sister, Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky) and Finnish society due to his art.

One thing director Karukoski emphasizes in his film is the non-acceptance of the gay lifestyle or practices.  It is understandable as it is after World War II and unlike the present times, the world was not ready to accept homosexuality.  “We used to put scum like you into concentration camps and then gas them to death,” quips a German soldier.  That is the reason Touko kept his sexual orientation secret from his sister.  A lot of graphic violence is depicted in the film from police beating up gay cruisers in the park to gay bashing in the toilets.

The film also contains touching moments as in the scene Kaija tells his brother that he needs someone to settle down.  It is in moments like these, that gay audience realize how fortunate that times have improved so much for the better in terms of acceptance of gay life in the wold today.

Warning:  Due to the subject matter of the film – gay sex drawings – objectionable scenes need be included, though tastefully done.

The film also deals with other issues urgent in those times.  The emergence of AIDs and coming out into the open in public are also examined.   

TOM OF FINLAND premiered in Toronto at the LGBT Gay ad Lesbian film and video festival last year.  The film was also Finland’s entry last year for the Best Foreign language Film for the Oscars.  Though it did not win a nomination, probably the film not being good enough,  TOM OF FINLAND is still worthwhile viewing if not an eye-opener providing some insight of a prohibited lifestyle in Finland after WWII.

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