VOD film review: Dogs Don’t Wear Pants
Laurence Boyce | On 21, Mar 2020
Director: J.-P. Valkeapää
Cast: Pekka Strang, Krista Kosonen, Ilona Huhta
Watch Dogs Don’t Wear Pants online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Sky Store
“I know how the heart works.” Uttered by heart surgeon Juha (Pekka Strang), those words take on somewhat ironic edge as Dogs Don’t Wear Pants heads into increasingly extreme territory. A treatise on grief and emotional trauma filtered through the prism of BDSM, J.-P. Valkeapää’s film explores the spaces in which the more primal aspects of human behaviour intersect with the norms of everyday life.
After losing his wife in a tragic accident – an incident recounted over the film’s effectively haunting opening – Juha has found himself raising his daughter alone while keeping an emotional distance from the rest of the world. After accompanying his teen daughter in her efforts to get her tongue pierced (with the issue of her burgeoning sexuality playing alongside her father’s own personal journey), he accidentally finds himself under the thrall of dominatrix Mona (Krista Kosonen). Intrigued by the world of BDSM, Juha finds himself visiting Mona as a client where he discovers the thrill of being strangled and the delight in being caused physical pain. But with Juha still clinging on to his grief, what lengths will he go to before things go too far?
This is not an exercise in cheap titillation. While the film does not shy away from depictions of sexuality – it’s more extreme moments depicting the sado-masochistic desires of Juha are definitely not for the squeamish – everything is bound within the exploration of Juha’s shattered emotions. The pleasure he gets from suffocation and strangulation bring him a release, a chance to acquiesce to his emotions and his own body and try to let go of years of guilt and grief.
Yet the film also points out that much of his enjoyment of these encounters comes from the fact that he likes it and it turns him on. The world of BDSM, in and of itself, is not treated as a place where only “perverts with psychological problems” retreat. Even the more extreme and dangerous moments of the relationship between Juha and Mona, one of which ends up with him being hospitalised, are shown to be the product of Juha’s inability to accept his sexual desires and the difficulty he still has dealing with his wife’s death.
When the film drifts over the open chest of a patient, heart beating away, it reminds us that we are still creatures of meat, bone and blood. Juha may know how the heart works physically. He may even have an idea of how it works emotionally. But the need to reconcile them, so that they work in tandem and leave him with a modicum of happiness, is Juha’s struggle. The film itself deals with a world that itself is often torn in two – Mona’s world is swathed in dark and ominous shades of red and black, yet it still feels sharp and full of life when compared to the sombre and washed-out tones of everyday existence.
Strang does well as Juha, managing to convey the quiet emotional struggle of a man without descending into histrionics. He also undergoes a remarkable transformation as he drifts between the two world he inhabits – which gives the story’s conclusion a joyful and cathartic feel. And while much of the story revolves around Juha, it avoids making Mona into a prop with no agency. Kosonen’s performance is also strong as she portrays a person who is sure about her wants and needs – just not sure about how to deal with Juha when he enters her life.
The film’s very title reminds us that humans are themselves creatures that have instincts and desires. The film celebrates how we can accept these desires (with the understanding that our gratification should not be at the expense of others) without shame and how we must try to let go of grief.