Playing at this year’s SWIFF (Screenwave International Film Festival) and released on DVD last week, Finnish film Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is a darkly comic exploration of loss, grief and rediscovery set in the BDSM scene (Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, Masochism).
We meet Juha (Pekka Strang) on a holiday by a lake with his wife and daughter Elli (Iiona Huhta). Whilst sleeping his wife goes for a swim and gets entangled in a fishing net and drowns despite him trying to rescue her. Flash forward a number of years and Juha is a respected open heart surgeon who has raised Elli alone, but whose grief over the death of his wife means that his life is numb and devoid of anything pleasurable. When he take’s Elli to get her tongue pierced as a birthday present, he accidentally stumbles into the rooms of Mona (Krista Kosonen), a dominatrix who mistakes him for a client. Mona begins to choke Juha, and he begins to feel a connection to, and release from, his wife that he has not had before. When his daughter walks in, the mistake is realised and Juha is allowed to leave.
Juha makes contact with and revisits Mona a number of times, establishing a sort of mutual respect for one another through the Dominant/Submissive relationship. Juha’s obsession with reconnecting with his wife and working through the grief however begins to affect his work and family life, culminating in a session with Mona that is potentially life threatening, and she ends their contact. Juha tracks Mona down and persuades her to help him one last time, with no boundaries, and he finally begins to live a life again.
The bare bones of Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is almost a standard romance/rom-com, but the unique theme of the BDSM scene sets it apart. The scenes between Juha & Mona are quite realistic in their brutality – featuring subjugation, suffocation and even modification – but never cross the line into exploitation or even really titillation as so many films do, and the actors are great in their respective roles. Technically the film looks amazing, with grey and muted colours used when Juha is enduring his dreary ‘normal’ life, and a high contrast, red neon palette when he is with Mona. The secondary story of Juha’s relationship with his teenage daughter helps humanise him, as he does all the right things a father should do but is emotionally distant.
We don’t really learn too much about Mona outside her chosen profession other than she complements her work with medical physical rehabilitation and that she “doesn’t like normal”. A bit more complexity into her character would have added to the film, but it doesn’t take away from the story.
For some viewers the confrontational BDSM scenes may be a bit too much, as they are quite graphic, but it is an R18+ rated film so there is warning going in. Other than that, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is an original and engaging look at human relationships, grief and redemption.
Rated 3.5/5 R18+
Movie reviewed by Rod O’Hara Bellingen Video Connection