The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is Finnish filmmaker’s Juho Kuosmanen’s dynamite debut, a black and white retro-flic based on the true story of the Finnish boxer Olli Mäki and his 1962 championship match against the American featherweight champion Davey Moore (who died shortly afterwards). As much a poignant love story as a raw and visceral sketch of pre-match preparation involving gruelling training sessions, this impressive debut also reflects the quiet pensive moments in the run-up to Maki’s happiest day in August 17th, 1962, as he determines what he really wants out of life.
With hand held camera in high contrast 16mm and cinema verite style the film captures the febrile intensity and gruelling pain of day to day match preparation for the legendary episode in Finnish sporting history and the euphoric national pride and excitement of a country on the crest of international sporting fame.
As the unassuming amateur boxer, known as the “Baker of Kokkola”, trains for his first world class fight he is also falling in love with Raija, a local country girl (Oona Airola), and their romance blossoms distracting him but also grounding him as to his true ambitions while he competes in the world of professional boxing amid the glamour, bright lights, sponsors and press.
Kuosmanen also captures the contrast between the sophistication of Helsinki’s elite and the wholesome country folk, the art nouveau splendour of the maritime capital and the open skies of the countryside where vast pine forests and lakes provide a lush setting for the romantic scenes and spartan training hours, in and out of wooden saunas and snowy woods.The film’s grainy black and white freshness and glowing fervour capture our imagination and conveys the heart-pumping joy of first love and thr the simplicity of the sixties when sport was simply about talent. Peter von Bagh would be proud. MT
OUT ON 21 APRIL 2017.| Winner Prix Un Certain Regard