Saturday, 3 September 2016

THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MAKI - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Finnish Boxing

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (2016)
Dir. Juho Kuosmanen
Scr. Kuosmanen and Mikko Myllylahti
Starring: Jarkko Lahti, Oona Airola, Eero Milonoff, John Bosco Jr.

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Is it possible for anyone to have a happy day in Finland? Well, amateur boxer and former Olympic champ Olli Mäki (Jarkko Lahti) hopes so. It's 1962 and his friend, manager and former boxer Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff) is not only counting on it, but he comes close to promising that Olli will indeed experience the happiest day in his life - if Olli works for it, harder than ever before. Olli's no slouch in the pugilistic sweepstakes. His record is impressive, but now the stakes are going to be very high because he's been entered into a professional bout in Helsinki against the formidable American fighter Davey Moore (John Bosco Jr.), a lean, mean boxer with over 60 wins behind him.

Can a sweet, young fighter from the sticks really hold his own in a bout touted as Finland's big shot at boxing supremacy on the world stage? For all intents and purposes, Olli is Finland's "Great White Hope" and the pressures placed upon him seem insurmountable.

Worst of all, Olli is severely distracted. He's falling in love.

The love of Olli's life is Raija (Oona Airola), a vivacious, gorgeous, fresh-faced beauty from his hometown. Manager Elis is understandably concerned. The only love Olli should keep in his heart is boxing and the will to win. Olli has other priorities. He's shy, humble and just wants to do his best, but in the world of professional sports, best isn't good enough. He's got to be the best of the best.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki is one of the best boxing films ever made. Kuosmanen's direction is infused with attention to the smallest details and results in a picture where the stuff of life provides indelible moments of dramatic and emotional resonance far beyond the cliches which litter so many sports films. The love story itself is wildly, deliriously romantic to the point of instilling the most delightful frissons of loving goooseflesh. It's one of the few movies I've seen which manages to create a feeling of butterflies in the tummy which only mad, passionate love can inspire.

Kuosmanen's cast hits all the right notes while cinematographer J-P Passi’s monochrome images carry us back to a time of simplicity, beauty and the promise the early 60s offered, in spite of the Cold-War, which tried to overshadow basic elements of humanity, but lost out to the decency of the hearts and minds of simple men the world over. The period details in the film are first-rate, but never stand out like glistening sore thumbs. They're inextricably linked to character and drama.

And if you don't know the true story of Olli Mäki, avoid looking it up before seeing the picture. Your experience will be blessed with added profundity and joy.


The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, a Norther Banner release, plays at TIFF 2016