The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki


Biography / Drama / Romance / Sport

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 100%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 78%
IMDb Rating 7.2 10 2665


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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by vikas Gupta 10 / 10

Must See Finnish Film! It's hard not to be amazed by it!

Very, very good film. An unusual one with the boxing theme. Must see it. It will stay for you long after it has ended. 1962, black and White, Finnish movie. Amazing.

Reviewed by rossumrobot 7 / 10

Boxing pic falls short of pre-event hype

With a prize at Cannes, favourable reviews and complimentary buzzwords (such as 'delightful' and 'impeccable') all in the mix, you could be forgiven for believing that European cinema had chanced upon the next 'Cinema Paradiso' or 'Amelie' and unearthed the next great take on heartwarming universality. Despite this, my suspicion is that the average cinema goer will ultimately come away from viewing 'The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki' slightly underwhelmed.

It would probably help to accurately define what it is, but here the film isn't shy of a bit of bobbing and weaving. Is it a boxing movie, is it a love story, is it a lovingly recreated slice of history, is it a tale of 'the little man facing mighty odds', is it a wry look at sporting optimism tainted by commercialism and self-interest? In truth, the movie invites each of these elements into the ring, feints and jabs with them, but without ever really hitting any of these targets square on.

The bulk of the story is devoted to Olli's pre-fight schedule, in the days immediately preceding the big match. So there's plenty of sparring, running and sweating on view, but this is also interlaced with the multiple promotional and commercial events Olli must attend in order to satisfy the sponsors and financiers of the bout. Rather than developing Olli's character (which remains fairly fixed as an affable, modest everyman) this routine is most successful at conveying how an event, which is billed as one man's dream, can incrementally drift away and become something he almost no longer recognises as his own. A man who merely wishes to test his talent, suddenly finds himself as a performer in a grand spectacle, carrying the weight of a nation's expectation on his shoulders. It's not 'one giant leap' to imagine a biopic of astronaut Neil Armstrong treading a similar path.

If I haven't mentioned the love story until this juncture, it's probably because, despite it producing some of the film's best moments, its presence feels a little token. Narratively, it teases us with the possibility that Raija is a distraction for Olli, dislodging his focus from 'his dream' or instead that she is actually the only genuine thing he has left to hold on to; especially given the fickle nature of the 'media circus' surrounding him. Whether it's preparing for sleep in a children's bunk bed, a stolen kiss at a local wedding reception or stealing an evening for themselves away from the pre-fight hoopla, Raija's wide-eyed openness and Olli's shuffling chivalry certainly imbue the film with some much needed emotional texture, but it's not enough. Given that we've had no access to them before the whole machinery of the 'big event' is in motion, for the most part, it's difficult to see them as much more than chess pieces in a game not of their own making.

The performances of the two leads and that of Eero Milonoff, as Olli's scheming promoter, all do the film credit, and as an impressively rendered piece of history, it's easy to see the film resonating with a domestic audience. But the rest of the art-house crowd may find the current 7.8 average IMDb rating a little generous; 6.8 is probably closer to the mark. (insert your own joke about the film not being a 'knockout' here)

Reviewed by maurice yacowar 8 / 10

Finnish boxing champ loses fight but wins fulfillment

Spoiler alert: Olli Maki's happiest day was the night American boxer Davey Moore beat the hell out of him for the featherweight world title in Helsinki. Olli held his own in the first round but couldn't make it through the second.

Why the happiest? That defeat enabled the skilled, disciplined but very modest Finnish boxer to withdraw from the high-powered and highly-financed arena of world engagement and settle into the richer rewards of a simple life with his sweetie Raija.

That's all Olli ever wanted. He was fine with being European champ, but he's pushed into the world title match and burdened with the onus of Representing Finland by his windy manager Elis.

Elis hates Olli's modesty and simplicity. His ego demands Olli give him glory. His financial straits require he court rich backers and land a big time purse.

Elis's marginalizing of Raija drives her back to their "backwoods" (Elis's term) hometown, to Olli's frustration and loss of focus. Elis keeps Raija out of the photos and documentary film in order to sell a poster of Olli posing with the stiff and much taller (i.e., incongruously mismatched) Miss Finland.

The film is as much about Finland as about its historic boxing star. Olli is relieved to walk out of the formal post-fight banquet, preferring to skip stones with his Raija. Finland can similarly be satisfied with its own cultural and economic life, participating in Europe, but not feeling the need to take on the empty glitz of America and the world arena.

For such unnecessary aspiration is hubris, which In the fight was Olli's error: "I couldn't see him coming at me. I think I held my chin too high."

In its own modesty the film is shot in black and white, like the documentary we see being filmed, everything low-key and human. Its charm is simplicity and the poignant. Like the dedication on the couple's wedding rings: just the names and date. Like their engagement, outside the bus that takes Olli away, the couple standing apart and not even touching after her acceptance. It's even playful, as Raija's acceptance seems conditional upon him winning the fight — which we know is out of character for both.

Finally, a reminder why you should always read the full credits at the end.

In the last scene the young lovers pass an elderly couple holding hands. "Do you think we'll be like that?" Raija asks. "Old?" "No, happy." "Of course we will." The last credit identifies that elderly couple — whose faces we don't see — as the real Olli and Raija Maki. Their presence confirms this reading of Olli's happiest day.

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