The visually and thematically stunning Dogs Don’t Wear Pants (Helsinki Filmi, Finland/Latvia 2019) directed by J.-P. Valkeapää has been universally applauded by critics, as it’s easily the finest Finnish film of the year, and not just because of it’s realistic handling of BDSM and the psychology therein, but for the high production values and cinematography that is so often lacking in Finnish cinema.
BDSM gets a bad rap in media. It’s either a backstory for horrific deaths (in style of C.S.I.) or an abusive, superficial pastime (in style of Fifty Shades of Grey). Very rarely do we see it set in its rightful context — an exploration of the dark side of the human mind, with people who have real and normal lives when they are not wearing skintight latex.
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants breaks this stereotype, by showing us vulnerable people, leading normal lives, enriched and interrupted by short moments of absolute pain — or pleasure. The banality of the daily grind, in this case a surgeon and a physiotherapist, is juxtaposed with the dark underworld we choose to enter, either by choice or by obsession.
The hallmarks of a good screenplay are non-predictability and not reaching for too much. Written by Juhana Lumme and the director, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants excels in both, for its plot outline is rather simple and when written out, not that interesting. It deftly avoid all the usual cliches, keeping you guessing what will be the endgame for the two characters involved. This is not a movie for a sequel or promotional tie-ins, it’s a one-time affair. Like many great movies, there is no reason to see the movie again once you’ve gone through the rollercoaster.
From a BDSM and kinkster standpoint, the portrayal of BDSM is above average in realism. While some minor details irritate an experienced kinkster (a $10 Aliexpress dog mask makes an appearance in the background; a fetish party is filled with extras in gear you wouldn’t really see in a real party), the activities are fleshed out in detail with remarkable realism, including hardcore breath control with some intelligent safety controls depicted.
Pekka Strang (previously having excelled in Tom of Finland) and Krista Kosonen deliver top-notch performances full of nuance, understatement and desperation. Pietari Peltola’s cinematography makes each shot an unique composition, and leads you to its dark undertones with selective focus, migraine-inducing visuals and tight close-ups.
As a final piece of unintended irony, me and LeatherSamFin went to see the film on its opening night in Finnkino’s Tennispalatsi while wearing our awesome dog masks. Of course, this being Finland, the country of the bland and context-free rules, the security at the theater asked us to remove our masks. After this, the director publicly tweeted that yes, you can watch this film with a dog mask on.