Tom of Finland: Film Review

Wyndham Hacket Pain @WyndhamHP

Tom of Finland beings in the Second World War, where Touko Laaksonen (Pekka Strang) is serving as an anti-aircraft officer and is exploring his sexuality. After the war ends Laaksonen returns to the house he shares with his sister Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky) and begins to draw erotic images. Due to laws that saw his pictures as pornographic and illegal it was hard for them to be sold but slowly they start to make their way across Europe and the globe. Much to Laaksonen’s surprise the suggestive images found a following in the much more liberated California and he is invited over there to a hero’s welcome.

The story is easy to digest and makes for an enjoyable viewing experience. Tom of Finland is very watchable and it is easy to relax into the pacing of the film. There is just enough tension and drama to keep it interesting but never so much that you feel uncomfortable or anxious. It is strange that a film with such controversial and conflicted subject matter is itself so conventional. The lack of historical detail helps it stay away from any contention and means that no specific comments are made about the periods depicted.

The opening sequences taking place in the Second World War seem a bit detached, with no connections made between his time at war and the events that follow. Even the final part of the film, set within a California shaken by the AIDS crisis, does not manage to comment on the events surrounding it. There is not enough focus on the important aspects of the story, with any commentary or insight spread so thinly that it is impossible to detect.

It is strange that a film taking place in such recognisable historical periods pays so little attention to their wider social contexts. The only time director Dome Karukoski comes close to commenting on his chosen subject matter is in relation to Laaksonen’s drawings. Even here the potentially provocative discussion on whether the pictures are art or pornographic is treated in the most diplomatic of ways. For Karukoski there is no conflict to be had and the images can be interpreted both ways.

In the end this means that Tom of Finland is more the story of how its title character came to terms with his homosexuality and artwork than one about the wider social transformations that were happening at the same time. Ultimately the film is an enjoyable if slightly unsubstantial study of someone’s desire to draw.

Tom of Finland is an interesting and well told look at the life of Finnish erotic artist Touko Laaksonen. It may not have quite enough historic detail to comment on the impacts repressive laws and the AIDS crisis had on the gay community but is still an entertaining homage to the importance of art in all its forms.

Tom of Finland is in cinemas from Friday 11th August.


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