‘Dogs Don’t Wear Pants’ movie review: Hardcore kink as therapy

J-P Valkeapää’s film showcases emotional metamorphosis through a sex-positive narrative on sadomasochism

July 23, 2020 09:36 pm | Updated July 24, 2020 11:49 am IST

A chance encounter:  Juha, a respected surgeon, accidentally meets Mona, a dominatrix, in the darkroom of a dingy tattoo parlour.

A chance encounter: Juha, a respected surgeon, accidentally meets Mona, a dominatrix, in the darkroom of a dingy tattoo parlour.

Finnish filmmaker J-P Valkeapää makes hardcore kink appear tender. In Dogs Don’t Wear Pants , he showcases BDSM unflinchingly and at its extreme, yet balances it out with melancholia and almost dream-like images in the same sequence, creating a hard-to-watch yet captivating experience. It would be quite rudimentary to describe Valkeapää’s latest as provocative. There is rational and substance to his visualisation. In addition to the film’s graphic nature, it throws open some fascinating inquiries about the extremes of sexual pleasure and pain; the link between trauma and sexual awakening; and how the human mind can find catharsis in physical agony.

A respected surgeon, Juha (Pekka Strang), grapples with the death of his wife, who drowned in a lake. This memory haunts him perpetually. So much so, that he sprays his wife’s cologne on her clothes and throws them over his face, as he masturbates. This motif is the start of a sexual fetish that eventually transforms into sadomasochism, as he accidentally meets a dominatrix in the darkroom of a dingy tattoo parlour. Mona (Krista Kosonen), the dominatrix, seldom shows emotions, as her job entails, but there’s more to her hardened self, which the film unfortunately never truly delves into. The film instead chooses to focus firmly on Juha, who transforms from an unsuspecting client — new to chains and whips — to a man addicted to strangulation for pleasure. Juha undergoes emotional metamorphosis by using pain to rejuvenate his damaged and numb mind.

What works in the film’s favour is that it not only abstains from being judgemental (or worse, prudish) but also endorses a sex-positive attitude. The hardcore fetish is laced with universally familiar themes of trauma and haunting memories, thereby ‘normalising’ it. Through the eyes of a ‘regular’ man like Juha, the audience is incrementally ushered into an underground scene of extreme sexual acts, and eventually flips the gaze, using a typical coming-of-age arc. It’s quite interesting to see the film using a conventional narrative trajectory to deal with a subject that to most would be rather shocking. On one hand, we see melting candles on a naked body, golden showers, leather costumes, bondage gear, neon red dungeon, flaccid penis; and on the other, erotically-shot bodies underwater in soft embraces, creating an intriguing juxtaposition of human intimacy and pleasure. The sex scenes are tactfully executed to amplify the inherent power play in the act.

The film also has a twisted and dark sense of humour, like the usage of The Crystal’s famously romantic song ‘Then He Kissed Me’ during a BDSM sequence. But it’s often hard to spot — let alone enjoy — these moments of black comedy, as the film constantly presents overwhelming and strong images. The initial awkwardness in Juha’s body language as he stumbles upon BDSM is easier to find comical rather than the successive scenes when he is fully incorporated into bondage. Strang perfectly executes the evolution of the character, which is certainly a tough job. He dexterously depicts the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — through his body language. Kosonen, as Mona, is shrouded in mystery and reticence, staying true to her position of the dominatrix.

Even though Juha and Mona assume clear roles in this dominant and submissive relationship, the power play between them remains fluid. They want to make an emotional breakthrough through pain and pleasure. Through them, Valkeapää highlights latent, almost primal, desires that exist right under the surface of ordinary suburbia, waiting to be unleashed by accident.

Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is streaming on Mubi India

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