Tom of Finland

How the patron saint of leather achieved his sweaty apotheosis.

Some biopics feel like they’re reverse-engineered from a single image to the extent that it’s almost surprising the movie doesn’t start with it, complete with a needle-scratch and voiceover to the effect of, “Yep, that’s me. I bet you’re wondering how I got here.” Dome Karukosi’s Tom of Finland doesn’t go there, but the fact that its climactic image feels preordained — and it’s followed by the real-life photograph it restages — doesn’t make its eventual appearance any less triumphant.

Touko (Pekka Strang) is a closeted gay man in mid-20th-century Finland who struggles to find an outlet for his art and his sexuality. He goes from the manly milieu of no-homo naked grab-ass in World War II to the hot, anonymous action of cruising in parks late at night, eventually finding fame in pre- and post-AIDS America as Finland’s pseudonymous Tom. Told entirely from Touko’s point of view, Tom of Finland is weirdly reminiscent of But I’m a Cheerleader, especially as Touko moves through a world in which gayness seems to be everywhere in spite of how taboo it is. Though not explicit per se, Tom of Finland is quite visceral; you can practically smell this movie, with many scenes reeking of cigarettes, sweat, and cum. And you know whether that’s high praise or not.

Tom of Finland
Not rated.
Opens Friday at the Embarcadero Center Cinema.

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