|Tom of Finland. The revelation. Touko's (Pekka Strang) greatest supporter has been all his life his sister Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky), but she has had no idea of his career as Tom of Finland. Please click on the image to enlarge it.|
FI 2017 © Helsinki-Filmi. PC: Helsinki-Filmi. With: Anagram Väst (Sweden), Fridthjof Film (Denmark), and Neutrinos Productions (Germany). P: Aleksi Bardy, Miia Haavisto, Annika Sucksdorff. D: Dome Karukoski. SC: Aleksi Bardy ‒ based on a story by Aleksi Bardy and Dome Karukoski. Cin: Lasse Frank Johannessen. PD: Christian Olander. AD: Lotta Bergman, Ricardo Molina, Astrid Poeschke, Riina Sipiläinen. Set dec: Christoph Merg. Cost: Anna Vilppunen. M: Hildur Guðnadóttir, Lasse Enersen. "Suomen laulu" (Fredrik Pacius, Emil von Qvanten, Taavi Hahl, Aleksanteri Rahkonen). Claude Debussy: "Préludes: Premier livre: 8: La fille aux cheveux de lin". S: Niclas Merits. ED: Harri Ylönen.
Art: Tom of Finland.
C: Pekka Strang (Touko / Tom), Lauri Tilkanen (Veli / Nipa), Jessica Grabowsky (Kaija), Taisto Oksanen (Alijoki), Seumas Sargent (Doug), Niklas Hogner (Kake), Jakob Oftebro (Jack), Kari Hietalahti (Sahlin).
Loc: Finland, Sweden, Germany, Spain, and Los Angeles. Language: Finnish and English and some German. 116 min
The film is a part of the Finland 100 jubileum program.
2K DCP with Finnish / Swedish subtitles (n.c.) released by Finnkino Oy. Premiere: 24 Feb 2017.
Viewed at Tennispalatsi Scape, sound system Dolby Atmos, Helsinki, 25 Feb 2017.
Tom of Finland is the first Finnish fiction feature film on love between men. (There has been a film on love between women, Tuija-Maija Niskanen's Avskedet / Jäähyväiset / The Farewell , a Swedish-Finnish co-production of a Finnish story). Tom of Finland is a fascinating story on the gay history of Finland. The trajectory from repression to liberation within a lifetime has universal significance. Even more generally, Tom of Finland is an engrossing tale about the courage and pride of "this above all: thine own self be true".
Touko Laaksonen (1920‒1991) was a graphic artist and cartoonist whose homoerotic visions influenced gay culture worldwide, including clubs and bars, Village People and Freddie Mercury. Laaksonen was an inventor in gay pornographic imagery often featuring policemen, firemen, bikers, soldiers, and lumberjacks. His images radiated self-confidence and a sense of humour.
I stumbled upon the art of Tom of Finland for the first time as a student in West Berlin in the early 1980s. I did not even know whether Tom was really Finnish, nor did hardly anybody in Finland. Tom's secret was revealed in Finland first in 1990 in the Image magazine, a year before his death.
When we mounted Finland's first gay and lesbian film retrospective at Cinema Orion in 1989 we were concerned about the reception and expected it to be a flop, but it became our all-time most successful retrospective. The retrospective stretched over months, there were queues on the street, and the cinema was packed. Soon after several gay bars emerged at Eerikinkatu and in the neighbourhood, and even a short-lived gay bookstore popped up. Even then we were not aware of Tom's Finnish identity.
The first Tom movie, Ilppo Pohjola's Daddy and the Muscle Academy (1991), made in collaboration with Touko Laaksonen himself, had its premiere at the Cinema theatre in the same month when Laaksonen died. I'll never forget the teams of young girls coming to Cinema... perhaps to admire the giant tools of Tom's bikers and lumberjacks, abundantly on display. Which reminds us that Tom never ignored hyperbole as a basic principle of pornographic fiction.
Tom of Finland the movie gives new insights to the man and the phenomenon.
Touko's war trauma is powerfully conveyed. (In WWII Finland fought the USSR in two wars, 1939‒1940 and 1941‒1944, and Germany in 1944‒1945). Touko fights valiantly as an officer and is decorated in the 1941‒1944 war but after the war he turns psychotic. He suffers from insomnia and nightmares, and bangs at his piano at night. His sister Kaija does her best to help him.
During the war Tom admired Nazi uniforms although he, being gay, was self-evidently anti-Nazi. Tom's nightmare memory of having stabbed to death a Soviet paratrooper transforms into a vision of masculinity inspired by the dead soldier's face that he never forgets.
The film provides a lively account of the hidden gay life in Finland when homosexuality was illegal (until 1971) and classified as an illness (until 1981). I do not remember seeing accounts of Finnish gay parties from the period before. There were informers and police raids. Touko's diplomat friend Alijoki (Taisto Oksanen) is caught and sent to the Lapinlahti mental hospital where he decides to "reform".
In Finland Touko lives a double life but in California he receives a hero's welcome. Gay men thank him for the pride of their very existence as homosexuals. He has become a worldwide inspiration for a generation of gay men. "You made these different boys feel special".
Touko's partner all his life is Nipa (Lauri Tilkanen) who dies of lung cancer. The deathbed farewell scenes are moving and humoristic.
Touko's most important helper all his life is his sister Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky), but she has had no idea of her brother's double life. First after Nipa's death Touko reveals her his secret life as Tom of Finland (see image above). "They appreciate me out there". Examining her brother's drawings Kaija is endlessly shocked and repelled at "the filthy pictures" in one of the strongest scenes of the movie.
When the AIDS epidemic breaks out in 1981 Touko takes full responsibility. "I caused all that". He blames himself for having inspired men to something that has turned lethal. The war trauma and the AIDS trauma are the two biggest crises of Touko's life. Touko stops drawing but starts again ‒ now at first focusing on safe sex and condom use. In his last years he is finally publicly acclaimed as an artist for the general audience and his art is displayed in respectable galleries such as Amos Anderson in Helsinki.
Pekka Strang gives a strong performance in the starring role. He incarnates the different ages of Touko Laaksonen believably. He carries the crucial crises and turning-points with conviction.
Overall the movie would have deserved a Viagra shot. Perhaps making a 12-rated film of a 18-rated subject has been somewhat discouraging to the film-makers. Meanwhile the Tom phenomenon has become domesticated, anyway. From Tom's taboo status in the 1980s he has changed into a national pet featured in postage stamps and Finlayson bedsheets and towels. Tom's men have even been compared with Moomin trolls.
In the Tennispalatsi Scape screening the visual look seemed needlessly bleak.
P.S. 9 March 2017. Today at Helsingin Sanomat Mari Koppinen writes in her column about Tom of Finland's passion for chorus singing. There is a memorable sequence about this in Dome Karukoski's movie, where the soldiers, facing defeat, sing together "Suomen laulu" ["The Song of Finland"]. It is a sequence of great dignity.
BEYOND THE JUMP BREAK: TOM OF FINLAND PRESS KIT