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Review: The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki – MIFF

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Not-so-Raging Bull, Juho Kuosmanen’s boxing biopic pulls the gentlest punches it can in telling the story of amateur boxer Olli Mäki, hailing from a small town in Finland and aspiring to not much more. It’s warm and personable, and its deliberate type of simplicity is one that more filmmakers should aim for.

Affectionately put together, the film has a fantastic grainy black-and-white 16mm aesthetic that perfectly matches its subject. You’re immediately drawn into its world when the lovely title music kicks in but, cleverly, that is just about the only non-diegetic use of music in the film. Script, camera, style, editing and mood carry the film on their own.

The narrative focus is always on Olli, and the boxing is always a background, echoing the way he feels about his chosen sport; his heart is never truly in his training until the motivation comes from Raija (the woman he falls in love with). He never wants to be a professional – even his fighting nickname is quite plain: “The Baker of Kokkola”. He’s in love and that’s all he needs.

In English, the title is The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, and it’s signalled fairly early on that this his happiness stems not from his future boxing match but from love; the title is introduced, after all, when Olli and Raija are on their way to a wedding. But in Finnish, the title is noticeably shorter, and indeed on further investigation, I found out that its Finnish title – Hymyilevä Mies – translates quite simply to “Smiling Man”. Bless.

Olli Mäki is less of an underdog and more of an underachiever. And this film about his happiest day is an unexpected delight. Truly a nice and nicely-made film.

Written by Ben Volchok

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