The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki

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.

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  • ★★★½ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd

    TIFF16 Film#5

    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).

  • ★★★½ review by Michael Sicinski on Letterboxd

    [7]

    A case of a film with a narrow set of aims, achieving each and every one with flying colors. Or with graytones, I suppose -- director Juho Kousmanen and cinematographer J.P. Passi bring Olli Mäki to life with an increasingly rare, old school black and white look, all swirling grain and rich tonalities. But apart from simply looking great, the movie has a hook. What if a talented young boxer got swept up in a nation's Great White Hype, but honestly didn't care whether he won or lost?

    Granted, it isn't quite that simple. Olli (Jarkko Lahti) is dedicated to his craft, and gives it his all when properly motivated. But he displays more than a little ambivalence about going pro, especially since as far as management goes, former low-level champ Elis (Eero Milonoff) is the onlu game in town. Thanks to his promotional skills, Elis soon has the whole of Finland behind Olli as a potential world lightweight champion, set to fight current champ Davey Moore (John Bosco, Jr.) for the title. It's a mismatch from the beginning, and it doesn't help matters that Elis has Olli fighting in a lower weight class than he ought to be.

    Unlike other underdog-centered sports films, the suspense model isn't about whether or not Olli will triumph. (That's assuming that, like me, you didn't know the details of the real Olli Mäki's career beforehand.) It's more along the lines of, will be get clobbered or will he wise up and call off the fight? After all, Olli is in love with his hometown sweetheart Raija (Oona Airola), who doesn't care whether he's a boxer at all. She just wants him to be happy.

    Of course, Elis sees Raija as a distraction, the training regimen leaves her bored on the sidelines, Olli is swept off to pose for photos with sponsors ... Numerous forces pull them apart. But Juosmanen, shall we say, pulls no punches. It's clear from the jump that Olli and Raija will end up together, provided there's still some Olli left to scrape off the mat at the end of the bout.

    It would be an oversell to say that The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is an anti-sports drama, but it does achieve something quite rare. It's a character study of a man for whom the sweet science is but a means to an end, not a driving passion. In this regard, Olli is actually an athlete-hero for the rest of us.

  • ★★★★ 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 VLxx on Letterboxd

    On Saturday 21st of May, Finland made history and won its first Cannes Un Certain Regard Grand Prize.

    On Sunday 22nd of May, Finland lost its precious hockey championship to Canada and won silver.

    I'm not sure if Olli Mäki is a milestone film of Finnish cinema. But I'm sure that we need films like this - films in which characters aren't only thing of importance but where national identity gains its beautiful expression.

    Finland isn't country of grand culture, it is sports country. Most of the time its craze in sports which seems to be its only bravura, goes too far. When after all annealing and enthusiastic reviews and analyzing, it loses, the silence is admittedly hard to take. Here, after every successful punch that Olli takes against his opponent, follows wave of heady cheering. When he goes down, everything quiets down much quicker than things developed to the point they developed. After disappointing loss in hockey (towards which Finnish people act with national pride) and disappointing, over-hyped performances in Rio, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is much needed comfort.

    Release of the film was more or less a spectacle, at least it seemed so but no one has really written anything big about the film after its short victory. Papers praise it, all 5-stars which seems to be only cause of its victory at Cannes. Its first showings were sold-out, now it runs in theaters like every film runs. But had Finland won the hockey gold, people would have rushed out to the streets like back in 2011 when even players coming out of plane were so drunk that they basically fell on their way down in stairs in their way to the ground. Where is the national pride in arts? In Finland, such things don't exist. I'm sure that Finnish people can't lose right but in some things, they can't take their victories right either (unless it includes hockey medals or Russian blood).

    But what do we care about victories and losses, when life can be so beautiful? Kuosmanen's longish shots follow fixedly his protagonists - amateur boxes Olli Mäki, his bride Raija and the couch Elis Ask. Olli is naturally in the spotlight but what caught my attention most was that Raija was never forgotten, it isn't a story about man who tried to do great things but about this couple and their first steps towards their long life together (real Olli and Raija Mäki walk by them during the last scene of the film). In every scene she is in, her presence is never forgotten and Kuosmanen frames her (every time he feels it is convenient) to the shots even if she stays on the background - actress Oona Airola herself lives in every shot she is in and never just surrenders to be "background prop". Same happens with Elis Ask who is played by more famous (this time nuanced) face Eero Milonoff. If scenes with Airola become as light as they should (although the emotion is never only one kind, it gains thoughtful weight at points), scenes with Milonoff are missing the sense of sultriness. Of course when all three are on the frame, this sultriness should be forgotten but Milonoff's and Lahti's (who plays Olli) relationship requires a little bit more tension.

    Even if overall Olli Mäki doesn't give anything new when reflected to world's cinema, its atmosphere has (rightfully) charmed critics and other viewers around the world. In a world where everything is so important (mostly the things that really aren't important), a film like this is well needed. Here is a chance to really love your protagonists for being so honest - this is a very straightforward film in the best of sense. It reminds more of classical Hollywood (or Finnish cinema) than today's overly filled cinema where everything has to be invented or to which every idea much be filled into (yet most of the films never manage to say anything new). Kuosmanen enjoys every frame and every moment in this film, it isn't hurrying forward - this moment is enough. Here and now gains its beautiful expression in our laugh that becomes so loud that we have to cry at the same time. Beautiful!

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