The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki
Modest but exquisitely crafted Finnish boxing biopic, which prizes romance above all else
Director Juho Kuosmanen has described his exquisitely crafted debut feature as the 'anti-Rocky'. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki may focus on a 1962 world championship bout between the eponymous Finnish boxer and American featherweight title holder Davey Moore (John Bosco Jr), but it has only a secondary interest in the sweat-speckled training montages, punishing fisticuffs and impossible underdog dreams that have kept Sylvester Stallone in business for the past 40 years.
Olli Mäki combines a gentle romance with a melancholy character study in which the pressure to perform in the ring gradually becomes an irrelevant distraction. Mäki (Jarkko Lahti) is increasingly preoccupied with his girlfriend Raija (Oona Airola). She is as shy and sincere as him; retreating from a crowd rather than rushing towards the limelight. They could be soulmates. Who cares about becoming champion of the world when you have found the love of your life?
Filmed on 16mm in grainy black and white, Olli Mäki has the feel of a lengthy newsreel from the period. It seems determined to prove that Mäki was the antithesis of Muhammad Ali. He is unassuming, uncomfortable in the spotlight and weighed down by the expectations of a nation hungry for his success. Nobody expects him to win, least of all himself. At one press conference, he mumbles, 'At least I won't be losing to a bad fighter.' Struggling to make his fighting weight, cope with the press interest and the endless training, Mäki is shown as an increasingly vulnerable figure.
This is an exceptionally modest, low-key affair but with an undoubted charm and a welcome humour running through the heartache. It also confirms Kuosmanen as a true romantic – the elderly couple who appear in the film's final scene are the real-life Olli and Raija.
Selected release from Fri 21 Apr.