TIFF 2019: Dogs Don’t Wear Pants – movie review

Dogs Don't Wear Pants. Image credit: Courtesy of TIFF

For the first time I’ve been granted press accreditation to the Toronto International Film Festival®, recognised as one of the largest and most prestigious film festivals in the world. So, I had the opportunity to watch and review a bunch of movies. This is my review of Dogs Don’t Wear Pants (Finland, J-P Valkeapää, drama/comedy/thriller; original title: Koirat eivät käytä housuja).

Dogs Don’t Wear Pants follows Juha (Pekka Strang), a man left emotionally paralysed by a tragic event, who develops an unexpected but powerful connection with a dominatrix named Mona (Krista Kosonen). During their first encounters, Juha asks Mona to fuel his dangerous addiction to suffocation, which leads them both down a wild and crazy path towards emotional enlightenment.

Third feature-length effort from acclaimed filmmaker J-P Valkeapää, the major strength of Dogs Don’t Wear Pants lies in its visual storytelling and subtly emotional performances.

Continue reading and check my final grade below… 

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After an impactful opening sequence that sets a pretty dour tone for the movie, the camera follows Juha as he carries a mundane, dull life after the traumatic experience that affected him: through the expert use of transitions and washed-out colour grading, Juha’s emotions are clearly communicated to the audience, in a way that certainly benefits from Strang’s held-back performance.

As soon as Mona is introduced, though, the colour palette changes dramatically and becomes orientated towards bright, violent reds and greens. Pietari Peltola’s cinematography perfectly communicates the idea of two worlds apart colliding on a visual level. What appears to be the oddest clash of universes you can think of is, in fact, revealed to be an inevitable path to love and the sweet pain of being.

As the story progresses, both Juha and Mona evolve as characters: in the relationship with his daughter Elli (Ilona Huhta), Juha goes through rough moments that come from abandoning a mundane routine and embracing deep emotions; in the work place, renowned surgeon Juha has to deal with expectations and reputation he doesn’t really care about, as they feel like a façade created by what society expects from an individual. Mona, on the other hand, goes through various phases of control management in her position of dominatrix in the BDSM community: how can she inflict pain to a person who just wants their fake-self completely annihilated?

Due to the subject matter and the setting of Dogs Don’t Wear Pants, the movie doesn’t shy away from disturbing, graphic and confronting imagery. Open-heart operations displayed in their full glory are intertwined, here, with full-on nudity and acts of consensual torture that feel cleansing for the characters rather than exploitative and nonsensical.

Meticulous sound-design and perfectly placed music choices fit seamlessly into the story and its multi-layered characters, helping the bitter-sweet tone of the film. Despite being rather dour, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants manages to create some darkly comedic moments that make the viewing experience exhilarating. The way the tone evolves throughout this picture towards a more hopeful vibe is perfect to introduce one of the best endings I’ve witnessed all year: the conclusion to this film is the perfect encapsulation of Juha and Mona’s arc, as well as the best fit imaginable for the story.

Aside from a couple of sequences that felt repetitive in the way they’re shot (although their presence is integral to the story) and a moment in the film where a high degree of suspension of disbelief is required, there’s only one scene in the whole picture that doesn’t fully work: it revolves around a hospital door and felt a bit out of character and exaggerated.

Other than a few (very) minor issues, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is a fantastic, unique film about the quest for happiness in a world of sweet pain (quite literally) and despair. It’s a delicate and yet graphic look into the life of two people who come from opposite sides and meet in the middle to experience the freedom of love, to abandon those restraints that society and expectations create around us.

Dogs Don’t Wear Pants                                9/10

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