THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MAKI (Finland | Sweden | Germany/TBC/92mins)
Directed by Juho Kuosmanen. Starring Jarkko Lahti, Pia Andersson, Oona Airola, Eero Milonoff, John Bosco Jr.
THE PLOT: In 1962, Finnish boxer Olli Maki (Jarkko Lahti) faced the biggest fight of his career against US fighter Davey Moore (John Bosco Jr.). Although Maki’s trainer promises him that the day he beats the American wil; be the happiest day of his life, Olli quickly feels the pressure of an entire nation looking to him to validate their national pride, and even worse; Olli has just fallen in love, and finds his loyalties torn.
THE VERDICT: Finland’s submission to the Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film this year, and shot in 16mm black and white, ‘The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki’ is not quite the quirk-fest that the title may have you believe, but a boxing film that manages to shake off every cliché in the book to be a genuinely touching and warm story.
Jarkko Lahti leads the cast as Olli Maki, making the character gentle and sweet, and seemingly entirely confused as to why he is the subject of so much attention. Lahti makes it clear that Maki never thought that fighting would lead to such fame and pressure, and he struggles with this throughout the film. The rest of the cast features Oona Airola, Eero Milonoff, John Bosco Jr and Pia Andersson. The real life Olli and Raija Maki also make a blink and you miss it appearance in the film.
Based on the true story of Olli Maki’s life, and written for the screen by Mikko Myllylahti and Juho Kuosmanen, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki is a wonderful thing; a boxing movie with none of the clichés. In fact, as Myllylahti and Kuosmanen have written the story, the film is actually an examination of when national pride turns to national pressure. Of course, there are moments when Olli feels rather like the stereotypical millennial, as it seems that all he wants to do is hang out with his girlfriend, but even this is presented in a charming and gentle manner, that actually adds to the character of Olli Maki, rather than turning audiences against him.
Director Juho Kuosmanen makes sure that ‘The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki’ is a film about boxing and the glory that can come with boxing on a national level, but he also makes the film a story of expectations and reality. The film is well paced with comedic moments carefully peppered throughout, and the sense of Olli reaching breaking point is almost tangible.
In all, ‘The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki’ is a charming little boxing movie that shakes off all of the clichés created by films of the past. The story is charming and Jarkko Lehti is great in the lead role. The film is a little gem that deserves to be seen.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    When Finnish cinema is not being drily funny like in the films of Aki Kaurismaki, it also occasionally produces something a bit different and immediately accessible. That’s the case for The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Maki, a true-life story that gives a Finnish touch to the familiar events of a boxing film.

    Finland, August 1962. Olli (Jarkko Lahti), dubbed The Baker Of Kokkola, is an experienced boxer who has been given a shot at the bigtime. With the help of his manager Elis (Eero Milonoff), he’s been given a chance to win the World Featherweight title from the current champion, an American. In order to do so, he must first lose some weight and get himself down to less than 57kgs in order to reach the Featherweight category. That won’t be easy, particularly when Olli has to get involved in the media circus, wining and dining with the eager Finnish media. He doesn’t help matters by taking a generous dollop of butter on a slice of bread. Olli has other things on his mind – he’s fallen in love with cute, kind schoolteacher Raija (Oona Airola). He’s more interested in her than the championship, but he’ll have to correct that if he’s going to get in the ring…

    In only his second feature, Juho Kuosmanen has delivered a warmly funny and endearing film with an ordinary but charismatic hero at its core. Boxing films aren’t really about boxing per se. A filmed boxing match can only last so long anyway. They’re more about a character’s journey to get to the ring and what happens after he has that moment of glory. That’s a familiar but tried-and-tested formula that suits this film well. However, Kuosmanen and his spirited actors go that little bit further, illustrating Olli’s seeming reluctance at media attention and his yearnings for a simple life.

    A moment of glory in the ring is nothing compared to a lifetime of love with the right woman. That’s very much a theme that runs throughout the film and is nicely tied up in a bow at the end. The title isn’t really misleading, as it reflects something rather different and more important to Olli. Shooting in crisp black and white, Juosmanen gives his film a semi-documentary feel. The build-up to the big fight is more interesting than the fight itself. There are no false notes, no shoehorned-in sub-plots and no attempt to raise Olii on a pedestal for the world to behold. The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Maki is much like its subject – humble, straightforward and realistically plucky. ****