The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki
Directed by Juho Kuosmanen
Summer 1962 and Olli Mäki has a shot at the world championship title in featherweight boxing. From the Finnish countryside to the bright lights of Helsinki, everything has been prepared for his fame and fortune. All Olli has to do is lose weight and concentrate. But there is a problem – he has fallen in love with Raija.
See more films
★★★½ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd
Reason for pick – Premise and timeslot.
So Finland has more directors than just the Kaurismäki brothers? Who knew?
This true story about a modest young Finnish boxer, the first ever Finn to have a shot at a world title, is filled to the brim with wholesome sweetness. Never saccharine and never plucking at heartstrings, director Juho Kuosmanen tells the simple tale in the way of the man himself, Olli Maki. You don’t laugh, cry, or even cheer, you just quietly smile, and maybe have a little chuckle once in a while.
Jarkko Lahti brings the humble Maki to life with warmth, charm, and believability. Likewise first feature actress Oona Airola renders a delightful Riaja, the apple of Maki’s eye. There is a special chemistry between the two, and Maki’s new love for her is manifest; especially when she isn’t near.
Kuosmanen and Cinematographer Jani-Petteri Passi create a wonderfully intimate 60’s documentary look with their grainy black and white 16mm photography.
One of those tiny gems that shows that less sometimes really can be more.
★★★★ review by Michael Scott on Letterboxd
Finland does anti-Rocky by way of an uneventful black and white rom-com.
Uneventful is good, by the way. Olli (Jarkko Lahti) realises he's in love with his girlfriend, Raija (Oona Airola) while he's in the middle of a press conference for the announcement of his featherweight world title boxing fight in Helsinki in 1962. From there, it is all about doe-eyes, face-pulling for photos and left-footed dancing. Well, that's in between the training for the title fight, which Olli doesn't seem all that interested in (the fight or the training).
Nor does director Juho Kuosmanen either. In fact, most of the training for the fight is given over to Olli's weight loss regime and that's all about steaming in saunas with the team and running kites through fields of beech trees.
The Happiest Day in the life of Olli Mäki is my kind of boxing film.
Jani-Petteri Passi's sumptuous, old school photography is the real kicker, though. It comes complete with screen burn on the lights (those lights being attached to bikes carrying passengers up front nouvelle vague style.
Stillness, quiet quirk and one of the most apt cameos you're likely to catch all year (but you'll have to scan the credits to recognise its beauty).
★★★★ review by Hen Bide on Letterboxd
AKA "Indifferent Finnish Rocky." The Rocky comparison feels inappropriate, and like an insult (though I love Rocky), but it's also definitely apt and probably intentional—this would be a perfect double feature, and it would have to be the second half, for two very different sides of the same coin. This is an underdog nationalist boxing story with the misfortune/good fortune to center on a guy who doesn't really care that much about the boxing, and is most happy just riding around on his bicycle with the love of his life. It's a light romance/character study infused with understated Scandinavian cool, shot in scrumptious, perfectly-judged black-and-white (that one scene where they're walking in the shadow of the trees under the bright dusk sky, omg, also lots of other scenes).
There are moments—like, two or three scenes—when faint glimmers of conventional sports narrative start to appear, but even then, this narrative stars the most unconventional protagonist I've ever seen in an ostensible sports film. It also plays keep-away with Raija, his awesome girlfriend, just enough, such that every moment they're together in the second half feels like a blessing and a relief. We feel the same joy upon seeing her that Olli does. Raija isn't hugely developed in the sense we see as an axiom in American film, but the actress is terrific, given ample time to make her a believable, soulful, complicated and surprising person if not a dense conveyor of character information, and there's one thirty-second sequence beginning with her looking at another woman's coiffed hair on the bus and launching into a plan she quickly regrets that was enough to sell me on her by itself. And so many other great little moments—Olli's last visit to the dunking booth, the perfectly handled climax, oh my godddd that thing Olli does in the woods during his final sequence of training that I don't want to ruin but that was so hilarious and delightful. File under "films like their protagonists": joyful, empathetic, carefree, reluctantly, professionally focused and intense when it needs to be and only for as long as necessary. Punctures the very myth of the sports narrative and makes me wonder why the hell we don't get more sports movies about athletes as real people with highly variable attitudes toward their career. I know why, but it's a shame. This is basically bliss, one of the most endearing romances I've seen.
★★★★ review by Rick Burin on Letterboxd
So it begins!
London Film Festival 2016: Film 1
A completely charming, disarming Finnish film, based on a true story, about a boxer who falls in love whilst preparing for a world championship fight. Shot in grainy monochrome, it reminds me a little of Truffaut in its grace notes (lovely, self-contained sequences of children) and also of Half Nelson – with its eye for an arresting, unexpected image or sentiment – though its sensibility, and its sense of humour, are all its own.
Whatever their quality, boxing movies tend to be bruising noirs about proud patsies (Body and Soul, The Set-Up, Champion), shameless stories about underdogs (Rocky) or cynical, bruising portraits of disconnected losers (Raging Bull). Olli Maki, with its humble hero, quiet humanity and knockout ending, could scarcely be more different.
Occasionally it seems unfocused or long-winded, but the performances from stage star Jarkko Lahti (as Olli), newcomer Oona Airola (as his ordinarily beautiful new girlfriend) and Eero Milonoff (playing his ex-champ of a manager) are really fresh, credible and well-judged, the bits of off-kilter humour mesh nicely with the affecting central storyline, and the film’s blending of realism, sweetness and surprise makes it a richly enjoyable experience.
A cracking start to the festival from debuting feature director Juho Kuosmanen – who won ‘Un certain regard’ at Cannes for this one.
★★★★ review by Shayne Bock on Letterboxd
Probably my favorite sports movie ever. I say this having seen probably less than 3 total sports films, let alone the 0 classic boxing epics I've seen. But I'm still confident this would be the best one. The minimalism of how the romance is done is impossibly affecting, and the toying with the documentary that's being shot in conjunction with how the actual film is shot and displayed is super interesting. Loved it.
- See all reviews