Sunday, April 16, 2017

Juho Kuosmanen's charming partial-biopic, THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MÄKI

Based on a short period in the career of a real-life boxer from Finland, THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MÄKI, directed and co-written (with Mikko Myllylahti) by Juho Kuosmanen, proves one of those sweet and very low-key Finnish films (think Aki Kaurismäki but not as stylized) that are charming, very easy to view and never push too hard in any direction. The movie may not lodge itself in your permanent memory, but I very much doubt you'll be sorry you saw it.

Kuosmanen's film (the director is shown at left) tracks the training period leading up to and including the world championship fight for featherweight title in 1962 fought by the titular Olli Mäki against an American fighter named Davey Moore. Happiest Day is sweet movie and actually quite romantic (especially for a boxing story) as Olli (below) and his girlfriend Raija (Oona Airola, further below) bond, break apart a bit, and then join again, as the championship match approaches. Not much happens beyond the budding love story, but we do get to view the boxing training, the PR machine, the news media and other typical artifacts circa the 1960s, brought to life in some nice period detail (though I must question the stadium shown us that has that huge video screen that certainly could not have been present in 1962).

Otherwise, the movie stays nicely on track as we get to know Olli and his attitudes to everything from sports and family to love and relationships. (His non-boxing profession was that of baker, and I'm sorry that the film does not give us a bit more of that.)

Instead we get a good dose of he effect that Olli's friend and trainer, Elis (Eero Milonoff, at right, below) has on the boxer, and for the most part it's not such a good one. Here, Elis' ambition and desire for success seem to trump all else, and Olli must fight doubly hard (even though he barely seems to understand this or how to do it) in order to hold on to his humanity and his woman.

But, as I say, the movie is Finnish and so it seldom pushes for effect but instead lets character win out over event. Performances are as genuine as can be, and because the film is based on real-life people and, we must assume, a lot of facts, what we see, hear and feel goes down all the more easily.

The last scene, in particular, is a charmer. Note the old couple our hero and heroine pass by and comment on as they walk along, and then be sure to read the cast list during the end credits. You'll be delighted with what you discover.

A rare theatrical release via MUBI, which we know best for its streaming service, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, running 92 minutes, opens this coming Friday, August 21, in New York at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal, to be followed by an exclusive digital release on MUBI

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