In the beginning of March Britain’s leading film critic Mark Kermode chose the Finnish Dogs Don’t Wear Pants as his film of the week. It was unlucky that the following week cinemas closed their doors and the film’s UK premiere was forced to take place online. Here the director JP Valkeapää shares his thoughts on the internationally acclaimed film and the process behind it.
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is a BDSM drama, which is to say a pretty unusual film. How did it develop from an idea to a finished movie?
Scriptwriter Juhana Lumme came up with the original idea. He had worked on the script together with Helsinki-films producer Aleksi Bardy for some years before I came along. The project hadn’t progressed, and the script hadn’t turned into something they would have been happy with. They were generous enough to pass the project to me. I kept the story’s original idea intact but rewrote all the characters, events and plotlines. I started writing in 2014 and the film was finished in 2019. Funding was a particular challenge with this film and the process was prolonged for a couple of years as a result.
What about the film appealed to you and pushed you to keep working on it?
The story was powerful. There was something in it that disturbed me. The idea that a person tries to take back his own life by going closer to death, is strong. There is also something charmingly unconventional in the way the holiness that’s related to sorrow and mourning is linked to the world of BDSM. Traditional good taste doesn’t define this story. It felt fresh.
The film deals with diverse themes such as father-daughter relationship, tragic death and BDSM. What kinds of reactions has it received from the audience?
I have travelled to diverse places with the film, for instance the US, Europe, Asia and Russia. I feel that different audiences have managed to get a hold of the film’s core idea really well. It’s important to understand that it’s not just a film about BDSM. It just offers a framework in which other themes and topics can be addressed. It’s also not a film that tries to please anyone, which is why reactions have been as diverse as the people watching it. A funny example that pops into my head was a screening in Palm Springs. Most of the audience members were over seventy. Afterwards they came to me and asked if BDSM is an actual thing and if clubs like these really exist. When the film was screened at a film festival in London, the audience laughed throughout the whole thing. The energy was very peculiar. Laughter is an important valve when you are dealing with dark themes.
The film has received a lot of international attention and critical acclaim, and it’s been sold to a number of countries. What do you think about the finished product?
If there is something that I worry about while making movies, it’s how well I have managed to get a hold of the story’s core idea, and how well I am managing to deliver what I want to tell and how I should do it. Have I identified the right things and am I dealing with them in an interesting way? I am very happy with what we created and how Dogs Don’t Wear Pants has come alive and spread internationally. The situation that we are in at the moment is amazing. International success is so rare for small budget films, especially for those that are made in Finnish.
What kinds of plans do you have for the future? Is there still something you would want this film to achieve?
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants has now made its way to the big world and more than anything I’m hoping that it manages to gain ground. I hope it will stick around. I am writing a new script at the moment that I plan to film at the end of next year. So there are new things in the air!
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants now available on Curzon Home Cinema
Text: Eeva Lehtonen Photo: Pietari Peltola