TOM & TOM
There are said to be people who only carry a cigarette lighter around with them in order to help others in need. A friendly turn, a social gesture, a beginning: Dietmar Brehm’s TOM & TOM revolves around such a non-linguistic encounter, but with the filmmaker’s typical delight in the ambiguous, he refuses to open the curtain completely. What we are given is a man with a mustache and suspenders gazing intently at his counterpart, who remains in a blur for two minutes. His slow-motion movements, as well as the position of the body, vaguely suggest that an intimate encounter is involved.
Instead of solving the mystery, Brehm first turns it upside down in his reworking of an excerpt from his own Praxis series: the image that the gaze so consistently fixes on then sharpens to a man in fetish leather with a police cap. We now look at it the other way around: you can see him puffing on his cigarette, the signal-like red-colored image pumping itself full of nicotine, as it were. Only on the third attempt do the two characters enter into a dialogue with each other: the casual throwing of the lighter becomes the central gesture, which Brehm stages accompanied by a relaxed musical number that suggests a quantum leap in quality. It is undoubtedly erotically charged – as if it were a secret code signaling the act of consent.
Brehm’s scene comes from a 2017 biopic dedicated to Touko Valio Laaksonen, the Finnish underground cartoonist who became known as “Tom of Finland” for his depictions of emphatically muscular, often sexualized male types. Adding to Laaksonen’s queer aesthetic, Brehm’s minimalist work now imagines a primal scene charged with an atmosphere that is determined by “an ambivalence between pleasure consumption and pleasure renunciation” (Jean-Luc Nancy). The fetish figure in leather becomes a visual conundrum that infuses one image with desire while being content with remaining an object. Two fingers slowly bring the cigarette to his lips; he inhales and smiles under his cap. His counterpart shows no reaction. And Brehm again closes the curtain. (Dominik Kamalzadeh)
TOM & TOM
8 min 30 sec