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SIFF ADVANCE: Tom of Finland - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
SIFF ADVANCE: Tom of Finland
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

It's actually disappointing this movie isn't more titillating. If you know anything about Tom of Finland, you know that was basically his intent. This is a gay artist who arguably was the earliest massive influences on gay culture: exaggerated fetish drawings first published in the late fifties, with an enduring presence in gay leather culture particularly from the seventies through the nineties, but which continues to this day.

This is one of those artists who likely still remains largely unknown outside the LGBT community, and such people, I suppose, might be slightly scandalized by some of the drawings shown onscreen in this Finnish film Tom of Finland. For those of us who have already seen plenty of his work, for multitudes of reasons, this film is surprisingly tame. Much has been written of Tom of Finland the artist as well as the work, a great eal of it in academic contexts, looking at the themes and images and how they fit into the context of their time and the evolving state of homophobia and gay acceptance in culture. Honestly, a documentary film that used that as the focus would have been far more illuminating.

This film, on the other hand, tasks itself with telling the story of the man himself. And to be sure, it is a worthy story to tell, although director Dome Karukoski doesn't quite accomplish something of particularly deep or lasting impact. But, it is fascinating to see the story of a man who fought in World War II, engaged in old-school covert gay sex in park bushes, and eventually found a mass audience for his explicit drawings in America, to the point of actual gallery showings.

Tom of Finland impressively spans over a course of decades, which is not usually easy for a film to do without making every part of the story feel gleaned over. We meet the artist, born Touko Laaksonen (played by Pekka Strang), and follow along his journey as he ages over many years. This happens also with his boyfriend, Veli (Lauri Tilkanen), who predictably becomes among the first victims of the AIDS epidemic. The depictions of those suffering from the disease, of which we see only a couple here but it's enough, is limited to slight coughs and visitations to hospital beds. Whether it's the sickness or the aging, though, the makeup is very well done.

A key point is made relatively early on, to underscore the kind of challenges Touko faced. When he shows people his drawings as he puts out feelers for potential publication, he notes that when it came to getting this work published in Finland, "It would be easier to get it published in the Vatican." Later, during a trip to Berlin, we're reminded of how very recent the latest World War was at the time: having been arrested for not paying for the room when the man he was with bailed, a German police officer relishes the memory of gassing "scum like you."

So there are certainly hints and references to the context in which this early erotic art was produced, by a man expressing his fantasies in a very oppressive world. Much of the art itself, however, is pulled from focus, and we as viewers are only given fleeting glimpses of it. I'm not saying this movie needed more outright gay porn in it -- and, it should be noted, not all of Tom of Finland's drawings were hardcore explicit, although plenty of it was -- but the movie does kind of seem to miss the point of the impact this art really made.

It's a good story, though, well enough told, and it features characters who felt liberated at a time much less free for gay men than they are now. I suppose this might barely be the right movie about the man for the aforementioned people who don't know about him, as it's certain not to overwhelm anyone. I just happened to want more out of it, a more pointed portrait of the art itself and its impact, whereas Tom of Finland is more concerned with a comparatively generalized portrait of the artist.

Pekka Strang and Lauri Tilkanen find inspiration for TOM OF INLAND.

Overall: B
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