A black-and-white period drama from Finland? Sign me up!
Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki
Broadway Film Theatre
Opens May 19
Finnish films have an aloofness that makes it a tougher sell than Swedish or Danish cinema. A caustic sense of humour and reserved characters conspire against immediate satisfaction but often result in a deeper experience.
The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is the rare Finnish production not linked to the country’s foremost filmmaker, Aki Kaurismaki. Inspired by real events from 1962, the movie follows the title character the week before his fight for boxing’s featherweight title. Reluctantly, Mäki goes through the motions (including losing weight to be able to compete), but his mind is somewhere else — specifically, with a kind school teacher that doesn’t quite fit the picture of a boxer’s sweetheart.
Unlike the antiheroes the subgenre has us used to, Olli Mäki is a withdrawn, modest fella with a clear understanding of what matters in life. Mäki doesn’t even talk trash about his opponents: he gives them flowers. The conflict comes from the pressure his manager exerts over Olli: he wants the title, but also the girl.
Along with obviously Finnish fingerprints, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki has the directness of the French New Wave and the look of early Bergman (simple, tight shots on the actors). It is, however, easier to digest. “The happiest day” the title refers to is not an estimation but an expectation, imposed by those who believe a championship can be an everlasting source of joy. Thankfully, Olli knows better.
As with any self-respecting picture about boxing, the climax is the fight for the title. Yet even then the movie subverts expectations. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki won’t set the world on fire but it’s a perfectly told little story that packs a harder punch than it lets on (see what I did there?). ❧