Film: Koirankynnen leikkaaja [trans. “Dog Nai Clipper”]
Director: Markku Pölönen
Performers: Peter Franzén, Taisto Reimaluoto, Ahti Kuoppala, Ville Virtanen, Risto Salmi
Production Information: Fennada Filmi, 2004
Breed(s) featured: Finnish Spitz, Norrbottenspitz, Mixed Breed
Availability: Region 0 (PAL) DVD released in 2007
Running Time: 105 minutes
Based on a 1980 novel of the same name by Veikko Huovinen, the film tells a story of a veteran struggling to stake it out postwar Finland. “Dog Nail Clipper” was received positively at the Nordic Film, Festroia as well as Hamburg Film festival and won several awards at the Jussi. Internationally, the film was well-received by critics.[source]
The first scene opens with a bright young soldier departing his fiancée on an army truck to fight the Soviets in the Continuation War. The young soldier and his squad wanders through the forests hunting the Reds until they scatter upon impending artillery barrages. Once under fire by Soviet troops, the Finns take cover. In a true cowboy fashion, the soldier walks his way forward blazing his PPD submachine gun toward the Soviet line. A sniper, armed with a Mosin Nagant M1891/30 rifle equipped with a PU scope, sights him and peers down the crosshair. The bold soldier swaggers to the ground, and another Finn witnessing the shot rushes in to rescue his downed while sustaining a few bullet wounds himself.
Later at the hospital, the hero who rescued his comrade is reunited with his children and his wife. The downed soldier, back on his feet again, sitting on a bench in a garden, with head wrapped, is approached by a doctor lifting the burden of marriage off his shoulders, in which the news was followed by an infantile crackle. The head-shot renders the bright young soldier reduced to a man-child.
Mertsi Arhippa Vepsäläinen (Peter Franzén) did not escape from the war unscathed. By day, he would daydream about dogs; by night, post-traumatic flashbacks haunts him. His memories seem to be mostly intact, albeit scrambled, receptive processing seems to be fine; however his expressive behaviours left him looking like a retard; and he functions like a child, spending his life as a vagabond, unable to hold down a job. Mertsi finds employment as an assistant of a carpenter, Ville Kuosmanen (Ahti Kuoppala). While on the job, Ville regales about his spitzy gundog named Sakke back home in Kainuu. However, contrary to what the masculine name suggests, the sorely missed canine companion is actually a bitch.
“Females are best for hunting. I wonder how she knows when we are about to go hunting. A couple of days before the season she eats her stomach full – then she stops eating altogether. She hunts better on a light stomach. I wonder how she knows.
She is a good gundog, too. She has such an original and deceiving bark. Even the birds have no idea that a hunter is near and about to shoot.
She is a fine watch dog, too. She can hear and sense everything in the woods. She can sniff out an elk in the east or men working by the river. She can smell what kind of lunch you have in your backpack. She´ll know what type of liquor you are carrying by the rattle of the bottle.
She´ll guard my sleigh if I tie it by the shop in the village. She will even fight a pack of wolves. lf I ever break my leg, or have a stroke, she´ll drag me to the village. Or she will run to the neighbour´s to fetch a doctor – before she comes to save me from the swamp. And if I die before her, well – she will howl at my grave and starve herself there. She will never leave me. Never.”
Despite all the attributes, the perfect dog, Sakke has an Achilles’ heel: her overgrown spiraling hind dewclaws, which gets snagged while roaming the bush.
Fearing for Sakke’s life, Mertsi takes off in the dark of night and boards a train in the morning to Kainuu. While on the train, he meets an old comrade, Eetvi Manninen (Taisto Reimaluoto), who saved Mertsi’s life on the frontline. When asked where Mertsi was heading, the war cripple mentions a logging site. However, Eetvi is unaware of what Mertsi actually meant, and as a logger, heading to a worksite in Kainuu, he escorts Mertsi. The reunited duo finds employment under a kind foreman (Ville Virtanen), a Lapland veteran, with Eetvi acting as Mertsi’s guaranteer. Or at least this is how the beginning of the film plays out.
The viewers will gain an insight of the harsh economic climate of Finland after the Winter and Lapland Wars. As the agrarian country struggles to pay off its reparations to the Soviets, her citizens could barely afford food and clothes. Many leads the life of labourers prior to the industrialization of the nation. However, the life of living in a logging camp is chosen as a backdrop.
While Mertsi is the main character and the events revolve around him, one would be mistaken to view “Dog Nail Clipper” as some kind of “feels good” flick about adversity in the face of mental disability. His existence serves only as a mean to drive the plot. The whole premise of the film lies more in the virtues and flaws of the people around him. Those who knows of his war injury treats him with respect, and those who are unaware of his history treats him as lesser. Some are sympathetic, a select couple are understanding while others are downright cruel to Mertsi. The reactions of the characters to Mertsi’s presence are really what defines “Dog Nail Clipper.”
Before spewing bile about how the film does not emphasize Mertsi’s independence, consider this: prior to the ’80s, many people, in which society deemed unfit to take care of themselves, were usually institutionalized. The condescending attitude of the flick and of the characters within the story correctly reflects the atmosphere of the time frame.
Those who are expecting a Lassie-type plot will sorely be disappointed. In fact, dogs are not even centric to the story– serving only as motifs. Even the main star of the film, the Finnish Spitz, only receives five, at the most ten, minutes of screen-time. Her role in the story is actually quite minimal, and only serves as a climax before coming to a close with the drama that ensues after the attempt to clip the dewclaws.
However not to disappoint a crowd who do not want to sit through an hour and a half before seeing the iconic red dog, here is a series of stills (without spoiling the climax):
Do not be misled by the opening scene, there is virtually no action. Most of the film is dialogue, and it is rather a slow-moving piece. Many who are not tolerant of mentally-compromised individuals will find watching this piece difficult, as the main character will repeatedly makes careless mistakes nearing killing himself in the process. However these frustrating moments are instrumental to highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the people who interacts with him.
What’s my take on the movie? I will be blunt: while it is cool to see a Finnish Spitz starring in the film, most of my brainpower was wasted on drooling over the foodstuff displayed throughout the course of the flick. That and I was blown away by the plumed tail on Sakke’. “The Dog Clipper” is a really quirky movie, so I might have to rewatch to gain an actual opinion. Would I watch it again? Maybe on a date night.
“The Dog Nail Clipper” is available in a PAL-format for Region 0 or 2 DVD players. There is no English dub audiotrack, however it does come with English subtitles.