There is so much in the pursuit of sport that brings a passion to win to the forefront of a movie screen. The underdog against the rest of the world evokes the ever-present struggle of the disenfranchised in triumph against adversity. Boxing films run the gamut of emotions because it is just two people working hard to battle it out for a title that might bring glory and fame to its victor. The lives behind these athletes make for great stories, but even more so when they are portrayed as people just trying to get by. Cannes’ Un Certain Regard Winner, Joho Kuosmanen’s The Happiest Day In The Life of Olli Mäki is a delicate drama, a slice of life, and an understated love story.
Jarkko Lahti plays real life Finnish boxer Olli Mäki preparing for his 1962 world feathership champion title match against Davey Moore (John Bosco Jr.). Young Olli must deal with his ruthless coach Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff), the grinding media hype machine, while in the midst of falling in love with his girlfriend, Raija (Oona Airola). It’s a story reminiscent of many other boxing films, yet there is something in Kuomanen’s tender rendering that makes it extraordinary. Co-written by Kuosmanen and Mikko Myllylahti, it is a compelling script that illuminates the simple motivations of the heart in surmounting circumstances.
Filmed in black and white 16mm, J.P Passi’s camera work is exquisite. Western moviegoers might remember Passi’s work with the documentary The Punk Syndrome. There’s a documentary newsreel feel to the shots while still capturing the drama as events unfold. Kusomanen frames his actors in a combination of tight and loose shots not missing the tiniest expressions that say so much. Lahti’s affectively nuanced portrayal of Mäki and his romance with Riaja is emboldened by Kuosmanen’s camera. There’s a scene where Mäki asks his manager for space, a time for himself to concentrate on his training. After a swim, whereupon audiences will witness the results on the actor’s body after much training, Mäki finds himself alone in the woods. He contemplates a kite in a tree and starts running with it like a child free of all worry. This is a man in throes of love and the monochrome lush greenery reflects beautiful among this innocent play. The character becomes a human, as he is humble by nature, yet grander for his simple connection to another. Of course, Mäki is no softie either. He fights hard and he trains, but while he becomes a heroic icon for his country, he just wants to live his life and do his thing knowing the odds are stacked against him.
Kuosmanen and his crew create a poetic picture full of complicated emotions and it plays out not so much in dialogue, but rather in a story that plays out naturally. Where a drama would call upon heated conflict to drive tension, this great film relies on the idea that if you work hard at what you do, you might not always get what you want, but you might get what you always had and wanted.
Don’t miss this film.
Kuosmanen and his crew create a poetic picture full of complicated emotions and it plays out not so much in dialogue, but rather in a story that plays out naturally. Don’t miss this film.