Dogs Don’t Wear Pants 2019 ****

dogsdontIn a week that we’d hoped to get a look at the new James Bond film, it feels like a change of pace to be reviewing a drama about a grieving surgeon who seeks solace in the world of extreme BDSM. But home streaming is where we are in March 2020, and writer and director J.-P. Valkeapää’s drama went straight into Curzon’s top five most streamed films this week, as well as getting picked up by Film 4 for terrestrial broadcast. A pick up via 2019’s Cannes, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is a fairly gruelling affair, but like other material on the Anti-Worlds imprint, is rewarding enough to recommend.

Somewhat bafflingly reviewed as ‘hardcore’ by one British broadsheet keen to establish their lack of credentials, this is a seriously-minded exploration of grief. Tom of Finland star Pekka Strang plays Juha, a gifted and respected surgeon who is mourning his wife; any film that opens with a title card superimposed over a graphic image of surgery sets out a stall to shock. Juha doesn’t object when his teenage daughter announces she wants a tongue-stud for her birthday; a colleague warns that he is suppressing her natural teenage desire to rebel. But Juha’s mind is elsewhere, and he finds himself hunting down the service of a dominatrix Mona (Blade Runner 2049’s Krista Kosonen). Their relationship goes beyond customer and client, but Juha’s work demeanour changes from having a spring in his step to becoming a dishevelled mess. A collegue wants Juha to get a psychological evaluation to make sure that ‘all the Moomins are in the valley’, but Juha has a death wish in the worst way and only Mona can help.

Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is certainly uncomfortable to watch in the BDSM scenes, but otherwise inhabits a ground not dissimilar to The Killing Of A Sacred Deer or even Altered States. Both Strang and Kosonen do well to make their characters real, although he’s got a lot more to go on in terms of dialogue, and the final scenes land with some impact.

Bafflingly released on horror imprint Shudder in the U.S., Dogs Don’t Wear Pants won’t be for everyone, and isn’t trying to be mainstream entertainment, but neither is it a sex film; it’s a well-intentioned drama about a relationship forged on the edge of what society allows. Kink is a part of life, and this Finish drama is worth a look for consenting adults in their own homes, which is where practically everyone is right now.

https://www.curzoncinemas.com/film-info/dogs-dont-wear-pants

Holiday 2018 ****

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Some films are more challenging to viewers than others; Isabella Eklöf’s Holiday is one that has to be approached with real caution. It’s a film suffused with mood, and dread, and the oppressive quality makes it one to avoid for the delicate of disposition. Male sexual violence is the subject, and for some, just that choice of focus will be enough to dissuade; reaching past the obvious provisos, Eklöf’s film manages to justify the contentious images on-screen, but it’s a close run thing at times.

Holiday takes a familiar location; the high-life of low-life crims in the Mediterranean sunshine. We’ve been here before, in Sweeney 2 or Sexy Beast, and Holiday has a similarly dark feel to Jonathan Glazer’s celebrated Pinter-riff. But there’s little comfort here; Victoria Carmen Sonne plays Sascha, a young woman who is the voluntary plaything of the violent Michael (Lai Yde). Michael deals drugs, and his social events are ones to avoid. Thomas (Thjis Romer) unwisely gets involved with the couple, and things end violently, although not quite as might be expected.

Holiday deals with events which shock; there’s a lengthy sexual assault scene that’s absolutely pivotal to the story, but even knowing the director’s intent, is still almost impossible to sit through. To what extent should we accept this as shining a light of a real social problem, or does the explicit quality of the scene push too far? Certainly, the comments on the imdb reviews board (never a great gauge of anything) suggest that few viewers were able to read the scenes as un-simulated, and that’s part of the film’s hard edge. This isn’t the kind of vapid exploitation that made, say Donkey Punch so revolting; Holiday’s sleek photography and natural acting palate disguise something more in the vein of a Lars Von Trier movie, specifically The Idiots or Breaking the Waves.

Provocation has become a bad word of late, and Holiday didn’t get the kind of free publicity that tabloids use to dish out. This release, on the Anti-Worlds banner of extreme art-hour releases, should do something to secure it’s on-going reputation. There’s more than a touch of Brett Eason Ellis’s trademark nihilism here, probably more realised than in the American author’s own films. For those who have the stomach for it, and this critic really had to wrestle with the off switch at times, this is a rewardingly tough drama with a hard feminist edge.

Holiday is released by Anti-Worlds from Feb 2020, and links for disc and blu-ray releases are supplied below.