Director: J.-P. Valkeapää
Starring: Pekka Strang, Krista Kosonen, Ilona Huhta
Words – Nathan Scatcherd
An at once clinical and yet strangely tender story, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is appropriately a film about contrasts. It follows a depressed surgeon, Juha (Pekka Strang), whose wife drowned some years before. Since then he has been drifting through an existence which is apparently very ordered and professionally successful, yet personally dull and joyless. He is emotionally distant to his teenage daughter (Ilona Huhta), wrapped up in the pain and guilt he feels over his wife’s death. After a chance encounter with Mona (Krista Kosonen), a dominatrix, he begins to feel drawn to her and her world of BDSM, becoming a very faithful customer as Mona’s ‘dog’.
The idea of working through one’s own internal strife through the humiliation and slave/mistress power dynamics of BDSM would perhaps inevitably imply a certain darkness of plot and tone, which the film certainly adheres to, up to a point. There are moments here which will test an individual viewer’s gag reflex (if you have a particular aversion to tooth or fingernail trauma… maybe go in ready to cover your eyes at a couple of points) but the film’s key is really its overall heart and compassion for its characters. Rather than wallowing in the humiliation or even judging its central characters for their lifestyles, the film has a pleasingly progressive outlook and presents the world of sadomasochism with a matter-of-fact straightness.
Both Juha and Mona are, in their own ways, damaged people whose relationship absolutely takes some… unorthodox turns, but the film isn’t presenting them as dangerous perverts so much as fellow outsiders who perhaps only understand each other. The world of BDSM is never treated as some naughty little joke, but rather a whole lifestyle which (as with most lifestyles) has its dark sides and hang-ups, but for some can bring a great deal of satisfaction and release. A lesser film would use the ‘underground sex’ world as a springboard for some exploitative pointing and sneering, at the very least, but here that aspect feels so grounded as to be almost incidental; the characters are the focus.
Pekka Strang is very good as the buttoned-up middle class bore who begins to work through his pain with… well, more pain, conveying a tiredness and droll disillusionment which slowly starts to be chipped away by his eye-opening experiences with Mona. Krista Kosonen matches him very well, with faint hints of softness under her stern exterior when ‘out of character’ as a dominatrix. The film offers glimpses of her life outside of her work, which are wisely kept fleeting; we get to see just enough to have a sense that this is a real flesh and blood woman rather than simply some rubber-clad fantasy, but the film generally remains at Juha’s POV, examining the power Mona has over him as he becomes increasingly dependent on his sessions with her.
It’s a very effective two-hander in a likeably offbeat film; the heart of gold beating behind the leather.