Review: The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki – Hymyilevä mies (2016)

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki – Hymyilevä mies (2016)

Directed by: Juho Kuosmanen | 92 minutes | biography, drama, romance, sports | Actors: Oona Airola, Eero Milonoff, Jarkko Lahti, Joonas Saartamo, Olli Mäki, Olli Rahkonen, Joanna Haartti, Deogracias Masomi, Mika Melender, Niklas Hyvärinen

The year is 1962. In Finland, the boxer Olli Mäki is preparing for the peak of his career so far: a fight for the world title in the featherweight class. Opponent is the American Davey Moore, location the Olympic stadium in Helsinki. Everything goes well, until Olli falls madly in love with the cheerful, uninhibited Raija. Because how do you keep your head in a title fight with all those butterflies in your stomach?

In the true story ‘The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki’ we relive those August days of 1962. We train with Olli, we move with him and Raija to the flat of Olli’s manager, a vain former boxer who hopes that Olli’s successes will also (and especially) radiate on him. We’re trying to lose the pounds needed for the featherweight class and at the same time, we’re trying to make time for that fun Raija.

What makes this autobiographical sketch so captivating is that we are witnessing the transition to modern sports culture. The likeable Olli clearly has no media training, he barely earns a (Finnish) Mark, he is not recognized on the street and his whole appearance is anything but glamorous. But here we stand on the threshold of a new era. For this important competition, Olli is followed by a documentary crew, he has to get sponsors and girlfriend Raija has to go to the hairdresser to do something about that unstoppable haircut. And that creates tension, especially when Olli realizes that he is slowly turning into a kind of fairground attraction.

In several ways, ‘The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki’ is reminiscent of Edgar Reitz’s legendary Heimatserie. Not only through the use of black and white, but also through an eye for historical detail and through the choice of modest, all-too-human characters. The humor is typically Scandinavian, dry as an unsalted Wasa cracker.

In addition to being an image of the times, the film is convincing as a romantic drama and exciting sports flick. Sorry about some unfortunate choices. For example, Moore’s American manager speaks with a bold Western accent and the entourage during the boxing match is a bit clumsy. The postmodern gimmick with which the film ends was not really necessary either. Fortunately, those are only minor blemishes on a very successful film. Not a knockout, but a big win on points.

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