Dogs Don't Wear Pants (4 stars)

Dogs Don't Wear Pants

Beautifully acted and blackly comic Finnish oddity from J-P Valkeapää, focusing on loneliness and loss

With its eccentric title and BDSM theme, this finely tuned Finnish oddity from director J-P Valkeapää pitches its tent proudly in the outsider camp. Blackly comic and periodically gross, for something so quirkily conceived, Dogs Don't Wear Pants is strikingly sensitive to human frailty and suffering.

The prologue sees a family's blissful lakeside idyll shattered when a little girl's mother gets caught in a fishing net and drowns; her husband Juha (Pekka Strang) is hauled out in the nick of time, after failing to save her. Years later, this socially awkward surgeon hasn't remotely processed his pain. Him and his, now-teenage, daughter Elli (Ilona Huhta) exchange thoughtful notes in each other's absence, but struggle to say much in person. Elli, instead, is a picture of quiet concern, as she carries the weight of her own sadness and tries a little bit of rebellion on for size.

A well-intentioned but pretty clueless father, Juha takes Elli to get her tongue pierced at a seedy backstreet studio, which also, it transpires, specialises in sadomasochist sessions. Whilst snooping around the red-lit, lair-like environs, he's accosted by dominatrix Mona (Finnish star Krista Kosonen), who piques his interest as she pins him to the floor. Juha inevitably returns, entering into an arrangement with Mona and finding a release of sorts in suffocation, something that recaptures his near-death experience and takes him close to his deceased wife to a dangerous degree.

Intimately shot by Pietari Peltola, the extreme close-ups immerse us in the sensations and textures of what will be, to many, an alien world. The sound design enhances every squeak of leather, rattle of chains, sizzle of wax, and crack of whips. Strang is remarkable, playing someone who's a knot of unresolved trauma, before spiralling out of control. Kosonen is his equal, conveying a fierce, aggressively guarded sadness – mainly through her extraordinarily expressive eyes – as a woman who is healer by day and aggressor by night. That her character goes relatively unexplained is a minor frustration in an idiosyncratic study of loneliness and loss that draws to a close in comedic, cockle-warming style.

Available to watch now on Curzon Home Cinema.

Dogs Don't Wear Pants

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • Finland, Latvia
  • 1h 45min
  • Directed by: J.-P. Valkeapää
  • Cast: Pekka Strang, Krista Kosonen, Oona Airola

Juha (Strang) is a Finnish widow struggling with bereavement, while his teenage daughter Elli (Huhta) has her own sorrow; then he discovers BDSM, in the form of dominatrix Mona (Kosonen). Blacky comic, occasionally gross but sensitive portrait of human frailty, loneliness and loss with remarkable performances from Strang…

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