Grief rather than lust is what drives Dogs Don’t Wear Pants, the well-told story of a Finnish man who starts visiting a dominatrix after his wife dies.
Director and co-writer J-P Valkeapää’s drama (with the odd comedic touch) is delivered in three big chunks. Chunk one is brief and details the life of Juha (Pekka Strang), a doctor with a beautiful wife and young daughter whose world changes entirely when the wife drowns while they’re holidaying by a tranquil lake.
Chunk two: a frozen-by-grief Juha accidentally strays into the chamber of a working dominatrix while taking his daughter to have her tongue pierced, and then starts visiting the dominatrix regularly.
Chunk three, also brief: things work out kind of OK.
So, yes, the bulk of the film is set in the dominatrix’s cellar, where Juha is, on his first visit, forced to strip naked (“dog’s don’t wear pants,” the whip-wielding, imperious Mona tells him) before being subjected to suffocation by plastic bag.
Juha is surprised to find that at the moment where suffocation edges into asphyxiation he’s momentarily re-united with his drowned wife, or at least with a memory of her so tangible it makes no difference. He wants more, which surprises Mona but she obliges.
Things soon escalate, going beyond safe words (in fact he holds a glass ball in his hand, so when he passes out it drops to the floor, giving Mona the signal), as Juha, craving suffocation like a drug, demands more from Mona than she’s prepared to give. Even a dominatrix has limits, and feelings.
It’s a story of a man who has found a bizarre way out of his emotional impasse, the nuance being that we’re not entirely sure whether the suffocation is anaesthetising Juha against grief, or re-connecting him up with a world of emotion, or simply allowing him to work through one of the stages of loss.
Probably a bit of all three. What this film isn’t is an opportunity to stare at people in the buff. Juha, though naked, at least until he’s been equipped with one of those S&M body harness outfits, is shot with enough shadow to cover his modesty; Mona remains fully clothed throughout. The film isn’t being coy: it just isn’t about sex.
Valkeapää gives us just enough of Juha’s external life to flesh out his character – moments in the hospital where the doctor’s behaviour (both before and after he starts seeing Mona) is a cause for concern, and at home, where his sweet but neglected daughter (Ilona Huhter) is forced into growing up quickly, the better to keep half an eye on her emotionally absent dad.
Valkeapää also gives us enough detail to make the world of the dominatrix ring true – for example, the vast amount of water Mona has to chug before an S&M session so she’ll be able to piss on a client whenever it’s required.
But Dogs Don’t Wear Pants knows what it’s about, where its focus lies. Playing an emotionally inert person is a tough ask for an actor – where is the performance? – but a focused Pekka Strang resists the urge to either over- or underplay. For Krista Kosonen the task is to avoid making Mona a caricatured tart with a heart. It’s a tease of a role – withholding here, giving there. Not unlike a dominatrix. And Kosonen looks magnificent in all that skintight black gear – and ironically that really doesn’t hurt.
I am an Amazon affiliate
© Steve Morrissey 2020