By Ryan Keating-Lambert
Tom of Finland is a surprisingly light-hearted biopic of the artist behind the revolutionary Tom of Finland cartoons. A good opener for the 18th Mezipatra Queer Film Festival and a strong foundation for this year’s ‘Be Your Own Champion’ motto.
A noteworthy entry in Mezipatra’s International Feature Film Competition this year and directed by the award-winning Dome Karukoski, a native of Finland. Tom of Finland brings the already cinematic journey of legendary gay artist Touko Laaksonen aka Tom of Finland to the big screen. From World War II to the AIDS epidemic, the guy had quite a life.
For a story about cartoons that are mainly comprised of hardcore gay sex with beefy hyper-masculine men, Tom of Finland acts surprisingly coy. There’s not too much in the way of sex or intimate contact between Tom and the other male characters, the film relies largely on the cartoons themselves, rather than trying to recreate those men in real life.
However, for fans of the cartoon doodles, and you can take that in whichever way you want, there’s quite a lot to look at here. The film’s visuals are in general quite extraordinary. Karukoski has captured the changing landscapes of history very well. There’s a particularly beautiful scene of Tom arriving in L.A. and soaking up the colourful campness of the suburbs. It made you want to be there and see it for yourself.
It’s a movie that if Karukoski wanted to, could have been a drama that really emphasized the tragic – the artist’s life wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. Instead he’s chosen to emphasize the humour and even the darker moments in the film are made significantly lighter and wittier.
The cast carries the humour well. Finnish actor Pekka Strang captures the title character’s cheeky and lovable personality, and also his limitless charisma with the people around him. The chemistry between the artist and his long-time lover Veli (Lauri Tilkanen) is heartwarming but could have been explored a little more. How were these boys inspired to do this? Did they ever explore these kinky situations themselves? There surely must have loads of guys that inspired pen to paper. The dirt and grit has all been glossed over in this film. It’s almost a family friendly version of his life. Is director Karukoski gay? Maybe the film could have benefited from having a gay director.
Nevertheless, Tom of Finland is an entertaining and enjoyable biopic. Not to mention it does a decent job at educating and enlightening people on how important this icon was in the quest for gay freedom and identity. It’s an empowering outing and kicked off a great after party at last night’s opening night.
Tom of Finland will screen again on November 7 in Kino Lucerna. Tickets and more available via the festival website.
Photo: East End