The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki

 

starstarstarhalf

 


If you think you know what to expect from a film about a boxer, prepare to be surprised.

 
Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki

Jarkko Lahti

 

In this country, the films of Aki Kaurismäki have long represented the face of Finnish cinema. So much so, in fact, that it has become difficult to know the extent to which his very individual blend of deadpan humour and underlying pathos has been a personal characteristic rather than a national one. What we learn from The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, a film by Juho Kuosmanen as director and co-writer, is that this particular combination of the comic and the serious is not Kaurismäki’s exclusive copyright.

 

Any basic description of the storyline here is bound to be misleading. Olli Mäki (Jarkko Lahti) is a Finnish boxer who has turned professional and who is now, with Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff) as his manager, preparing to take on an American for the Featherweight World Championship title. The year is 1962 and he is watched from the sidelines by the girl, Raija (Oona Airola), whom he loves. Stated like that, the plot suggests a standard boxing drama, but this is anything but and we only enter the ring as such for the climactic match.

 

For much of the time Olli’s world is observed in unassertive quietly comic style. Early on it positively pours with rain to undermine a wedding reception, a publicity shot has the rather short Olli standing on a box to disguise his limited height when being photographed with an attractive girl and filmmakers who arrive to make a documentary about the build-up to the match are solemnly introduced to Olli and to other boxers when all of them have just emerged stark naked from a shower. This tongue-in-cheek tone is stronger in some scenes than in others but, despite the more dramatic elements in the story, it never wholly disappears from sight.

 

As the story goes on we become more and more aware of the extent to which the professional boxing world has become commercialised and we witness Olli’s punitive attempt to lose weight for the contest and the extent to which he sidelines Raija because love is seen as detrimental to a sportsman's concentration. Indeed, there is an echo of Toni Erdmann here since both films touch on the possibility that the wholehearted pursuit of a career (a business one in the German film, boxing here) can be at the cost of personal relationships which could be the source of real happiness.

 

The Finnish tone may dominate in The Happiest Day on the Life of Olli Mäki but the period setting has led to it being shot in sharp black and white and that carries distant echoes of the early films of Italy's Ermanno Olmi and to the Czech movies of Milos Forman. There’s a freshness in this (the film’s first half moves briskly through quite short scenes), but the underplaying applied to both the comedy and the drama arguably makes this a rather slender film, albeit a well acted one. However, the question of whether or not it satisfies deeply enough is one that probably depends for its answer on the taste of the individual viewer. One certainly feels that Kuosmanen has done exactly what he set out to do.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Jarkko Lahti, Oona Airola, Eero Milonoff, Joanna Haartti, Esko Barquero, Elma Milonoff, Leimu Leisti, Hilma Milonoff.

 

Dir Juho Kuosmanen, Pro Jussi Rantamäki, Screenplay Mikko Myllylahti and Juho Kuosmanen, Ph J-P Passi, Set Des Kari Kankaanpää, Ed Jussi Rautaniemi, Music Miika Snåre, Laura Airola and Joonas  Haavisto, Costumes Sari Suominen.

 

Elokuvayhtiö Aamu/One Two Films/Film Väst/Tre Vänner/Yie/ARTE-MUBI.
93 mins. Finland/Germany/Sweden/Norway. 2016. Rel: 21 April 2017. Cert. 12A.