MOVIE: THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MAKI
STARRING: JARKKO LAHTI; OONA AIROLA; EERO MILONOFF
DIRECTED BY: JUHO KUOSMANEN
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki is a movie about a boxer, but it's not about boxing at all. It's more about the things that truly matter in life, such as love and longevity. We follow Finland's Olli Maki (played by Jarkko Lahti) in 1962, during the biggest week of his fighting career, leading up to his championship bout against American featherweight Davey Moore. Now, if you think that would be a movie with training montages, raw egg concoctions, and an underdog finding himself in the ring, then you would be sorely wrong. There's hardly any of that, but there is a beautiful focus on Olli's relationship with the kind hearted Raija Maki (Oona Airola), and how in that one week, the love of his life showed him exactly what it meant to find his purpose.
As far as boxing movies go, Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull will always be the greatest of all time. There is a close relation between that film and this one, not just because of the crisp black & white cinematography, but also because first time director Juho Kuosmanen focuses on the man on the inside instead of the fighting in the ring. The only difference, is Robert DeNiro's Jake Lamotta was a brute, a bruiser, and a self-loathing man. Here, Olli is a quiet, soft spoken person, known as a simple baker from Kokkola. His manager Elis (Eero Milonoff) continues to push the fight, often pitching a character like a WWE wrestler, not an actual human, or even much of a friend. It's hard not to feel that Elis sees Ollie as a dollar sign. It's this push and pull on Olli that often drives him away. When he brings Raija along for his week of training, he has a hard time focusing on promotional photos with models, or black tie dinners, instead of starring at something that could last him forever.
There is much to praise about this film for it's style. The black and white cinematography from J.P. Passi is the perfect touch, creating a feel that is somewhat tied to a French New Wave inspiration. Films such as Truffaut's The 400 Blows, Fellini's 8 ½, or even Alexander Payne's Nebraska, are all examples that become heightened in emotion because of the vintage color scheme. That is also true here, as Olli's quiet nature and gentle romantic walks shared with Raija, creates the feeling of an old fashioned Hollywood romance. The only major problem, is that Olli's character and Jarkko Lahti's performance is so mute, he almost becomes an empty vessel. It is the performances by Airola and Milonoff that become the highlights of the film.
What I ultimately grasped onto was the unique portrayal of a boxing movie. The spirit of a champion or a fighter has become the most cliched narrative that Hollywood can tell us. Films such as Creed, Hands of Stone, Bleed for This, and Southpaw have become as regular as Marvel movies. That is why a The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki is a breath of fresh air. It stays so focused on everything outside of boxing, that it takes a backseat to the entire sport.
There is an endearing and compassionate outlook on the things that matter more in life than winning a fight. It's essentially an entire film made out of that last minute in Rocky, where the relationship with someone you love means everything. The direction from Kuosmanen is beautifully paced and deservingly earned the film an Un Certain Regard Award at last years Cannes Film Festival. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki is one that I hope fans will seek out, because this was one day that I was happy to be a part of.
Written by: Leo Brady