Dogs Don’t Wear Pants Review

Dogs Don't Wear Pants
Roughly ten years on from the death of his wife by drowning, cardiac surgeon Juha (Pekka Strang) is sleepwalking through life. Yet a trip to a piercing parlour with his teenage daughter Elli (Ilona Huhta) provides an unexpected way to visit his late love — through near-death experiences provided by dominatrix Mona (Krista Kosonen).

by Ian Freer |
Published on
Release Date:

20 Mar 2020

Original Title:

Dogs Don’t Wear Pants

A strong contender for the title of 2020, “Dogs don’t wear pants” is a command given by dominatrix Mona (Krista Kosonen) to her submissive Juha (Pekka Strang) to take his trousers off and get on all fours. It’s a key moment in Finnish filmmaker Jukka-Pekka Valkeapää’s deftly judged black comedy-drama, the start of a journey for its lead character that is as funny as it is edgy and unexpected. Dogs doesn’t pull its punches — the S&M is wince-worthy, especially in a pliers/teeth interface — but it has different colours too: dry wit, shards of tenderness and a worldview that surprisingly reframes the kinkiest, degrading acts as not only commonplace but restorative.

It’s a film to listen to as much as watch, Micke Nyström’s sound design adding layers of tension and unease.

It starts slowly as Valkeapää sketches the drowning of Juha’s wife in eerie, economic strokes. Fast-forward ten years and Juha is working as a cardiac surgeon (open-heart surgery close-ups ahoy), raising his sweetly rebellious daughter Elli (Ilona Huhta, who does well with an underwritten role) and masturbating wearing his wife’s knickers over his head. When Elli wants a tongue piercing for her birthday — an act of boundary-pushing her father offers no resistance to — Juha happily accompanies her and blithely wanders off into the unsafe space of BDSM dominatrix Mona. Assuming he is a client, she beats him, spikes him with a stiletto and subjects him to autoerotic asphyxiation — and for a moment, in the space between life and death, he sees his wife in a murky underwater vision.

It’s a terrific premise — using the darker, rougher edges of sex as a way back to love — and Valkeapää, for the most part, plays it perfectly. Shot in glowing neon and shiny latex, the BDSM scenes don’t hold back (licking boots, golden showers, candles on back) and embroidered with dramatic details (when her clients start to lose consciousness and drop a silver ball, Mona knows it’s time to stop), but they are also alive to shifting power relationships and surprising moments of tenderness. It’s also a film to listen to as much as watch, Micke Nyström’s sound design adding layers of tension and unease.

Best known for Tom Of Finland, Strang makes Juha’s journey funny and affecting, his intimidated demeanour only faltering as obsession turns to stalking in moments that feel overegged. He is matched toe to toe by Kosonen (Blade Runner 2049) who convinces as a dominatrix but also gives Mona an inner life not on the page that takes her beyond a male sexual-fantasy figure. Both perfectly pitch the film’s unique sense of Nordic humour and believably deliver an ending that finds hope in an unlikely place.

Dogs Don’t Wear Pants makes 50 Shades Of Grey look like kindergarten. A funny, provocative and strangely moving treat. The safe word is excellent.
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