Dog Nail Clipper

That’s the title of a movie I just watched for the second time. What kind of movie does the title Dog Nail Clipper bring to mind? Does it sound like a movie you want to see? Probably not, which is a shame, because it’s a very good movie. Almost every English-language review of the film that I can find online mentions the strangeness of the title.

The movie is made in Finland, and the title is a literal, word-for-word translation of the Finnish title. The translator may have done this because the screenplay is based on an acclaimed novel of the same name. Perhaps it seemed like they should be as “true” to the original title as possible. They even went so far as to leave out the customary English “the” at the beginning (Finnish doesn’t use articles).

But the word-for-word translation isn’t quite true to the original. It obscures the original meaning rather than making it clear. For one thing, it’s not clear whether the title is referring to a tool or a person.

Dog Nail Clippers

Koirankynnen leikkaaja is the story of Mertsi Vepsäläinen, a man who fights courageously against Russian invaders in World War II, suffers a debilitating brain injury when he is shot in the head, and then aspires to the much humbler task of cutting the nails of his mentor’s dog. His obsession leads him across the frozen Finnish landscape and through tremendous hardships. It stars Peter Franzén and Taisto Reimaluoto (both of whom appeared in Ambush, which received some distribution abroad). Both of them give wonderful performances.

The Finnish title is excruciatingly ironic. It’s a sort of job title for a job so simple that it doesn’t exist. The story is a contrast between this laughably simple and humble task, and the truly heroic optimism and strength that Mertsi must have in order to accomplish it.

I guess it sounds like a sentimental movie, but it’s actually not. It’s moving, even (dare I say) heartwarming, but very honest. Only the music is a bit overboard here and there. But nevertheless, I recommend it. If you like it a lot, you can have the fun of telling your friends that one of your favorite movies is Dog Nail Clipper.

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~ by lolarusa on January 31, 2008.

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