Film Review – Tom of Finland

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In association with the GFT

Touko Laaksonen was by day a senior art director at an ad agency in his native Finland. Beyond his day-to-day, however, his craft was wildly different. Going by the pseudonym Tom of Finland, Laaksonen produced an extraordinary amount of homoerotic art, drawing men in uniform with wildly exaggerated muscles, moustaches and genitals.

Given the oppression rife in his home nation, Laaksonen was unable to openly practise his art, or his sexuality, and the film displays this oppression as omnipresent; be it in the policemen patrolling the park to catch cruising men, in his own sister’s disgust at his sexuality, or in the admittance of his friend into a sanatorium after being caught hosting a homosexual gathering. The film is a showcase of this repression but, importantly, one also of resistance.

During the Second World War, in which Touko served, we see the artist gain both a sexual and emotional connection with a fellow officer, which the film hints at as a driving factor underlying his art. Post-war we see Laaksonen join a biker’s club – a common cover for men like Laaksonen attracted to the presence of men in leather – and regularly attends his friend’s ‘poker parties’ with his lover, and lodger, Vali. The love story between these two men is tenderly handled, giving equal attention to both the raw sexual side as well as the deep love between them.

Yet for all its preoccupation with sexuality, the film doesn’t have any sex scenes, with the explicit sensuality of Touko’s work and its erotic legacy serving in their absence. In one key scene Laaksonen arrives in America to a pool party straight out of one of his sexual fantasies, complete with some visiting cops. However, whilst previous encounters with the constabulary were in the context of institutionalised homophobia and hatred, the cops here joke with the men. The sexual liberation of bright colourful Californian scenes feels heady after the restraints of Finland, and Touko is openly embraced by the leather community.

Overall the film’s depiction of its subject and his life is a story that needs to be seen. Tom of Finland had such an exciting influence on the gay aesthetic and beyond, and the film tells a different story to other classic LGBTQ+ films which largely exist to showcase the ‘respectable’ side to the community or to elicit tears.

This film will screen at the Glasgow Film Theatre from the 11th to the 17th of August. Tickets available here:

[Rose Jackson]

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