Shot in a gorgeous black-and-white, “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki” is an introspective, biographical drama directed by Juho Kuosmanen about the Finnish boxer Olli Maki, who was pointed to become a national hero in 1962 when he fought for the world featherweight title.
Direct and concise, Kuosmanen, an adept of unextended durations (his debut feature “The Painting Sellers” had 58 minutes), goes strictly to the point and catches not only our eye but also our hearts through an observant narrative of a bittersweet real story.
Olli Maki (Jarkko Lahti), a small-town baker turned professional boxer, is super excited by the chance of becoming a world champion and national hero. For that to happen, he has to beat the American Davey Moore, who’s still undefeated and boasts the world title since 1959.
The major event will take place in Helsinki and is naturally generating extensive media attention in the country at the point of letting the modest Olli uncomfortable with the high number of interviews and television covering.
Olli’s super strict coach, Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff), is a former champ himself, who struggles with financial and family problems. He becomes concerned when Olli brings his new girlfriend, Raija (Oona Airola), to Helsinki, confessing he’s in love with her.
A persistent tension arises whenever she’s around, with Elis constantly trying to push her away, an insolence that makes Olli really upset. Elis is only satisfied when his pupil poses for pictures with important people, especially with the sponsors he venerates so much for his own interest.
Raija ends up going back to Kokkola, their small town, but Olli can’t really focus without her near, going after her to assure that his mind will be at peace on the most important day of his career.
Besides her trust, the other thing he has to conquer is his excess of weight, a task that stubbornly remains unfulfilled.
“The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki”, winner of the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, shines through a charismatic discretion and gripping assertiveness.
It’s a wonderful story of sportsmanship and acceptance earnestly led by Kuosmanen and empowered by impeccable performances.
Fans of Rocky Balboa probably won’t find what they’re looking for in this special Finnish hero. But if you look deeper, you’ll see that this drama carries much more than just entertaining punches.
ABOUT FILIPE FREITAS
Filipe Freitas is a New York-based Portuguese film critic and jazz music writer.
He’s the founder and lead critic of Always Good Movies film website, launched in 2010, and co-founder of JazzTrail, site that explores the vibrant NY Jazz Scene. He has a background in electrical engineering, a field he quit in 2012 to follow his dreams.