‘Tom of Finland’

Highly sexualised gay imagery may have resulted in the art of Touko Valio Laaksonen (Tom of Finland) being banned but, in time, it also made him one of the most influential and celebrated figures of twentieth century gay culture.

Furtive, illegal post-war sexual encounters by trained draughtsman Laaksonen (Pekka Strang – Dogs Don’t Wear Pants, Kites Over Helsinki) were offset by the detailed drawings of sexual fanstasies involving highly muscular, well endowed men in uniform. Encouraged by new partner Veli (Lauri Tilkanen – TV’s Deadwind, Hooked), black-market distribution in Helsinki eventually led to discovery in LA and New York. As times changed and gay liberation took hold, so the newly labeled Tom of Finland and his art came to epitomise the new sexual freedom.

It’s a respectful if slow, episodic treatment by director Dome Karukoski (Heart of a Lion, Tolkien) of Laaksonen’s life from the Finnish military to struggling with his sexuality whilst living with his sister, Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky – 8-pallo, Once Where We Walked). But, with its move to the US and English, Tom of Finland, whilst celebrating the art and the artist, becomes too rushed and superficial without any exploration of the issues of sexual politics and rise of AIDS in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

Rating: 57%

‘The Fencer’

usposter27x40inch_thefencerlowA true story told as a predictable melodrama, The Fencer is conventional but engaging.

Endel Nelis (a solid Mart Avandi) arrives to teach at a school in the small Estonian town of Haapsalu during the post-war Stalin era. His leaving Leningrad stirs suspicion among party officials at the school: the fact he is a fencing champion adds to their interest.

Starting a successful fencing class as part of the (‘voluntary’) Saturday Sports Club goes against the proletariat teaching of the principal – and brings attention on Nelis from education officials outside the town. And then the kids get wind of an all-Soviet elite fencing competition due to take place in Leningrad….

The Fencer is a David & Goliath story set in the drab, atmospheric 1950s (perfectly captured in set design and cinematography). It’s an unchallenging enjoyment marred slightly by an overemphatic score.

Rating: 56%