Before watching this film, my mind was immediately taken to a somewhat stereotypical notion that Scandinavian cinema and TV is dark, full of gritty realism, slow and often difficult to watch.
Finnish Director J-P Valkeapaa has not changed my perception at all. Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is everything you’ve come to imagine from Scandinavia in this dark yet somehow wholesome tale of self-discovery, grief and BDSM.
Heart surgeon Juha [Pekka Strang] has been unable to move on since the tragic death of his wife. He lives with his daughter Elli [Ilona Huhta] and remains respected and loved, but is unable to find joy in his life.
After a chance throttling by a Dominatrix as he stumbled into the wrong room during one of her sessions, Juha realises at the point of death he’s reconnected with his wife.
Obsessed and dominated by the need to see his wife again, Juha builds an unlikely relationship with his dominatrix Mona [Krista Kosonen],but as the relationship turns sour and Juha finally and truly reaches the point of death, seemingly amazingly and almost randomly he realises (I still don’t get quite what happened) that he has something, feeling joy again thanks to his abuse and pain under Mona. His experiences leading to the end of his grief, bringing him to a new sense of self.
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants has some absolutely beautiful cinematography with angles that bring mystery and scene direction that adds a whole other level to the film. It also has some incredibly difficult to watch scenes, and I’m not really talking so much the BDSM, but pointless images of open heart surgery and naked patients on the operating table that really hits home the lack of dignity hospitals provide.
The BDSM is difficult and people do appear in pain, not least Mona herself, but it’s shown in a way that doesn’t make it shameful or disgusting, but shows the benefits of fetish to the people who attend and the community that’s built around it that Juha grows within.
Where the film really lacks is the growth of secondary characters. Juha is given back story, personality and substance. Although we have a few glimpses of Mona’s non-BDSM life, we don’t really get to understand her motivation even though Juhu’s experiences clearly have an effect on her we never get to understand why or to what extent.
Elli equally gets little time to be understood, and there appears to be an arc where she gets a boyfriend but the meaning and consequence of it seems irrelevant and merely there to build screen time or show that she’s moving on from her father.
Although a hardcore film for the most part, and not likely to hit mainstream scenes or BBC2 anytime soon, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is surprisingly heart warming, and although it starts INCREDIBLY slow and a real grind it does grow into itself and very much recommended.
A bit out there, and a bit different and there are better films out there, but Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is a solid 7/10 and worth a watch if you’re into gritty cinema.
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