By Steve V. Rodriguez
The new film, TOM OF FINLAND is a thoroughly engaging epic film that spans the life of a man who may have created the most iconic homoerotic art of our time. Known to most gay men, an arguably most gay millennials today,Touko Laaksonen aka Tom of Finland’s art always elicits favorable views of admiration for the provocative and sexually charged scenes that the artist depicted in thousands of sketches and drawings. Today there is a foundation dedicated to the art that continues the legacy, but most people have no idea about the fascinating story of the man behind the work.
Directed by Dome Karukoski, with a screenplay by Aleksi Bardy TOM OF FINLAND is a beautifully shot film that spans the life of Laaksonen from his frontline soldier duties during WWII to his life post war living with his sister, while hiding his sexuality
against a dismal backdrop of existence where one was hunted and persecuted for being gay. With a skill for art, namely sketching, Touko finds an outlet that proves to be fruitful overseas on the west coast of California. Scouted by an American fan, played exuberantly by Seumas F. Sargent, who convinces Touko he can sell, represent and publish his art in the states amid the sexual revolution of the 60’s and 70’s.
Karukoski has the tough job of bridging tumultuous war scenes with sensitive acting moments between Touko and his sister played sharply by Pekka Strang and Jessica Grabowsky. Some of the best scenes are between Brother and Sister where less is said, but much conveyed between the two actors which both demonstrate the beauty of sibling love against the fragility of pent-up emotions. The story hits a crescendo when it moves to the vibrant and sexually charged 70’s in Los Angeles. The audience feels the hedonism, much like our protagonist takes in, as opposed to the repressed world he knows back home. Bardy’s script has us circle back to 80’s and the AIDS crises, which affected the work of Tom of Finland for many obvious reasons and cultural shifts in attitudes.
Probably the best praise one can say for this truly ambitious telling of Tom of Finland is not that it successfully connects the dots of this expansive and brimful life, or that it does so with exquisite beauty because all are true. Part in due by cinematographer, Frank Lasse’s sweeping shots that propel the story assisted by the lush music by Lasse Enersen and Hildur Guonadottir. The totality of this film is also filled with acute performances by it’s actors, namely Pekka Strang’s portrayal through varied slices of Touka’s life, as well as the intimacy and volatility of Lauri Tilkanen, who plays Tom’s lover. Ultimately, the film brings up notions and questions, what is considered art, when it’s sexually charged imagery is so stimulating, but then again isn’t that the definition of great art…
TOM OF FINLAND plays at the Quad cinema in New York City October 13-26th. The film opens in LA (NUART) and SF (Embarcadero) this Friday, October 20th with a national release to follow. Watch the trailer below and listen to my podcast recording with lead actor, Pekka Strang who plays Tom and cast members Seumas Sargent and Jessica Grabowsky.