OUTeast Day 2: Signature Move & Tom of Finland

Signature Move, from director Jennifer Reeder, is a cutesy rom-com with a standard plot. Lady meets lady, lady likes lady, lady loses lady. We follow the lovers as each navigates a unique path while figuring out the patience needed to accept and validate their differences. They make out, make jokes, and make up. Mix in cultural and generational differences, amateur wrestling, and some well-cued audience laughs, and you have OUTeast's second screening of the festival.

The film's Muslim, Pakastani-American protagonist, Zaynab, played by co-writer Fawzia Mirza, is a well-intentioned conundrum. She knows who she is; she just happens to be both an independent queer woman and the painfully dutiful daughter and caretaker of the conservative, equally well-meaning Praveen. Zaynab's social awkwardness is endearing. She takes up wrestling for “existential reasons”. Her romantic counterpart, the self-assured and uninhibited Alma (Sari Sanchez), is a bold contrast. When confronted with Zaynab's reticence to come out to her mother, Alma angrily affirms she will not “go backwards for anyone.”

Signature Move follows the lovers' mishaps as filtered through the influences of the mother-daughter relationships. This adds some intriguing moments. While the widowed Praveen escapes her lot through television melodramas and engages her world through binoculars, Alma's ex-luchadora mother, Rosa (Charin Alvarez), alludes to her own fascinating history of subterfuge and secrets within the early underground of women's wrestling in Mexico. It might have been interesting to probe the possible dynamic and sympathies between Zaynab and Rosa. Surprisingly, this goes unexplored and the wrestling has only a minor role in the film. It acts instead as a casual, fun stand-in for Zaynab's main struggles to reconcile the many facets of her identity and for the support or acceptance from those around her as she does. However light, the matches made for some of the film's more entertaining scenes. Judging from the sounds of the crowd around me, the OUTeast audience seemed to agree.

                                                                                                                                 - Rose Scoville

The art of Tom of Finland is proudly lewd, crude, and rude, filled with muscular mustachioed men, flaunting their phalluses in saucy little black-and-white cartoons. The life of Tom of Finland, as portrayed in this eponymous biopic, was, sadly, a tad blander. In fact, Tom of Finland was not really Tom; his name was Touko Laaksonen. He was of Finland, though, an unfortunate circumstance, since homophobia was rampant in his country, as it was most elsewhere.

The film contrasts how the joys of his artistic fantasies were at odds. His life in Finland was spent fighting in a war for a country that oppressed him and making dull advertising art. This dreariness was sometimes escaped, at gay parties, thrown behind closed doors and often interrupted by brutal police, and in a relationship with a secret partner, formed after an awkward love triangle in which his sister vied for romance with the same man. The drab life is also lightened up by the intrusion of an imaginary leather daddy friend Tom calls Kake; a sort of muse thought up in the absence of a culturally acceptable object of desire.

The cold scenery in the soft-spoken Touko's repressed days in Finland are filmed beautifully, but one can't help but want for something a little raunchier to match the artist's spirit. Fortunately, this comes around later in the film. After his art is sold internationally using his pseudonym, Touko is flown to California, in a celebratory gay utopia. Between the beautiful men who admire him in California and his romantic lover in Finland, it seems Touko may have finally found some happiness. Unfortunately, this is soon encroached upon by the AIDS crisis and subsequent backlash against queer individuals.

This oscillation between cold repression and oppression and the joys sexual fantasy is at the heart of Tom of Finland. Thankfully, our titular hero persists, insisting that gay men worldwide have their desire and existence represented. As a biopic, period piece, war film, romance, comedy, and queer film, it is a tale well told.

                                                                                                                               - Nick Malbeuf