This lovely piece of work is set in 1962 and inspired by a crucial moment in the life of a real-life Finnish boxer.
“The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki” is a lovely piece of work, a sweet, warmly observed tale overlaid with just the right amount of Scandinavian melancholy, a combination that perfectly suits its quietly engaging protagonist.
Set in 1962 and inspired by a crucial moment in the life of a real-life Finnish boxer, “Olli Mäki” works wonders with a story that only sounds straight-ahead. Coming out of nowhere, this debut feature by Juho Kuosmanen won the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes last year.
“Olli Mäki” benefits from some gorgeous black-and-white cinematography from director of photography Jani-Petteri Passi. It has a crisp yet evocative look filled with so many memorable images that it makes you wish black-and-white were more alive and well as a visual choice.
‘The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki,’ with Jarkko Lahti, Oona Airola, Eero Milonoff. Directed by Juho Kuosmanen, from a screenplay by Kuosmanen and Mikko Myllylahti. 92 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In Finnish and English with subtitles. Guild 45th.
The Los Angeles Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.
The heart of a project like this has to be natural acting from its key players, and “Olli Mäki” is so effective in this regard that you soon forget you are not watching real people going about their lives.
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The title character (Jarkko Lahti) is introduced taking a trip to his rural hometown to see Raija Janka (Oona Airola), a young woman he’s recently met. Their growing feeling for each other trumps all, so much so that when Olli goes to Helsinki, Raija goes along with him.
It’s only when he is met by his manager, Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff), that Olli’s situation becomes clear. This modest man, more at ease with children than adults and someone who literally wouldn’t hurt a fly, is just two weeks away from the biggest bout of his career, a title featherweight fight with accomplished American Davey Moore.
Elis understandably wants Olli to focus on his preparations, except that Olli has fallen in love. His attention is split between what he knows he should be doing to succeed at a craft he loves and what his heart tells him to do. This dilemma is not an original one, but the treatment it’s given in “Olli Mäki” makes it seem like it is.
Most effective of all is the way the film is alive to the pleasures and difficulties of life in a way that constantly surprises us.
Speaking of the unexpected, keep your eye out for an old couple who amble through a scene near this film’s end. Yes, it is the real Olli and Raija, walking off the screen and into our hearts.