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Touko Laaksonen (Pekka Strang) working. Picture: Josef Persson

Tom of Finland, directed by Dome Karukoski, is the wild and handsome story of Touko Laaksonen (Pekka Strang), a Finnish (hardcore) homoerotic artist who has gained increasing popularity around the world after his death in 1991.

The film chronicles Laaksonen’s life, from his time in the Finnish army during World War II to his work as a mainstream illustrator at an advertising agency, and, finally, to his Californication years and important role in the sexual revolution in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s. The film successfully manages to portray the protagonist’s life in an enjoyable and attractive way, but it’s most successful in showcasing Laaksonen’s attempt (and struggle) to feel and pursue the pleasure for which his drawings (continue) to stand.

The viewer is taken on a journey to Laaksonen’s first tentatively acts on his gay desires in both his artwork and personal life, his romantic relationship with dancer Veli (Lauri Tilkanen) as well as to the limitations and problems that come with life as a gay in Finland during that time (being gay was decriminalized in 1971 in Finland).

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One of Laaksonen’s struggles is his relationship with his sister Kaija (Jessica Grabowsky), who is homophobic and does not accept the highly masculine, fetish artwork Laaksonen is so eager to draw.

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Art, porn? That question is irrelevant. Above all, Tom of Finland is a story about identity, relationships, sexual desires and society’s constraints inside of which a gay man shapes his life.