THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MAKI
Director: Juho Kuosmanen
Runtime: 90 minutes
Not many Finnish movies make it to NYC unless it’s under film festivals where they remain, undistributed and unreleased, so when I heard that Finland’s entry to the 89th Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film had arrived to the Angelika I rushed to go see it without even knowing what it was about. Reader, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki is a gorgeously made black and white film that tells the story of retired boxer Olli Maki and the days leading up to his fated match with Davey Chase in 1962.
When the movie starts, Olli Maki (Jarkko Lahti) is an amateur boxer who during a wedding party meets and falls for Raija (the lovely Oona Airola). Soon after, Olli’s manager Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff) has Olli and Raija travel to Helsinki to prepare him for bigger and better things — in this case, his first big match, against none other than the American Davey Chase. From the get-go, Olli manifests a certain doubt about his own mettle, a thing that doesn’t go over too well with Ask who wants Olli to act as aggressive as possible and secure the Finnish win.
Problems start appearing soon after — Olli needs to lose a certain amount of weight to make his class and the weight isn’t coming off. Raija soon begins to feel out of place in Helsinki, and a telling trip to the salon, where the stylist gives her an updated do, speaks pages about isolation in a strange place. Compounded with Ask’s own marital problems, and the hiring of a documentary crew to film Olli’s every move as he prepares for his match, and we have a recipe for a man who may have a meltdown in the middle of all this pressure.
However, the movie, as restrained and documentary-like as it is, never caves into the more American expectation of this kind of drama. Instead it allows itself to move naturally, with events taking place in a realistic form until the day of the match arrives. This is a thoughtful movie about facing one’s own doubts and fears, and the true courage it takes to stand up in quiet defiance against the potential pitfalls of glory, and walk away gracefully.