Toronto: Grief and guilt: Imagine a film around this theme. Imagine a husband mourning the death of his young, beloved wife in a tragic accident. Imagine him hating himself for not being able to save her, especially because he survived the accident himself.
Imagine him now having to be a single parent to his young daughter who stood at the edge of the lake screaming, as her mother drowned.
Imagine what that film will be like — the pace, the mood, the grieving man, the lonely child.
What comes to mind? Unmitigated grief? Emotional paralysis?
Enter Finnish director Jukka-Pekka Valkeapaa, and his film, Dogs Don’t wear Pants, which is playing almost every night at the Toronto International Film Festival (Tiff) to packed halls and long applause.
While introducing Dogs Don’t Wear Pants, a Tiff programmer recalled a colleague saying that it was the “most upbeat, asinine film” they had seen in a while.
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants, an absurdist, dark comedy around BDSM — bondage, dominance/discipline, submission and sadism-/masochism — opens with the shot of a bare ass being whipped.
A lady in a black leather-rubber body suit is whipping the bottom of a man with what’s known in the BDSM world as the flogger. The person to whom the ass belongs is on all fours and facing away from the camera.
The lady, a professional dominatrix, is moving around him, saying mean things. His pants have a rumali roti size piece cut out to facilitate the kink. We see his buns turn pink from repeated assault. From the sounds he’s making, it seems the guy is getting off on the pain.
One of the secret joys of international film festivals is that the forbidden gets shown, watched and enjoyed without fear or demure.
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants investigates grief-and-guilt not as a continuum from other, previous films on the theme, but as it may fester and then embed itself in some corner of the psyche, controlling emotions and sexual behaviour.
Instead of bestowing sainthood on the grieving widower, Juha (Pekka Strang), the film makes him stumble into the red den of dominatrix Mona (Krista Kosonen) who, after insulting and whipping him with a leather item known as the crop, tries to strangle him. As his breath is being choked out of him, Juha, a heart surgeon, is hooked, to the play of pain, to being taken to the edge, of the near-death experience, and keeps returning for more.
She likes inflicting pain, and a bond begins to form...
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants shows erotic asphyxiation not as a worrying deviant behaviour, but as something some people may want, need and get off on. We watch Juha suddenly living life as he experiences a certain freedom, and a thrill.
The film, complete with various other items, fetishes and routines of titillation that paraphilia offers, does cast a curious, wry eye at the whole issue of sexual gratification. It treats it as a personal choice, and watches it being sought, performed and enjoyed in the midst of mundane domesticity. It’s amused, hooked.
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is fabulously absurdist and, at times, takes the infliction of pain to such extremes that there was lots of nervous laughter in the hall and eyes covered with palms.
After the film’s showing on Wednesday night, director Valkeapaa took questions and explained why he wanted to break away from the usual “sacredness of guilt”.
He spoke of spending several hours, along with the film’s lead actors, wearing leather masks in the den of a dominatrix, observing, learning, taking mental notes.
Standing next to him, the lead actress Krista Kosonen giggled a lot and recalled how difficult it was to get into the body-hugging rubber-leather-metal suit, and then she revealed that the man in the first shot, getting his bare ass whipped, was the director himself.