52nd Chicago International Film Festival Screening #12: “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki” (Finland)

“The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki” (Finland)
Directed by Juho Kuosmanen

happiestday_02Finland is not known for a tradition of boxing films. I’m sure this is, in great part, due to the lack of international boxing champions or contenders in their history. Thus, it is with very little regard for the Hollywood-fight-picture tradition, that Kuosmanen has created a lovely “fight” film that more closely resembles, in feel, what ‘Friday Night Lights’ would have looked like if it took place in the boxing, rather than a Texas high school football environment.

Shooting in high contrast black and white, effectively evoking the time period and the presentation of boxing in those times – newsreel footage – the film is gorgeous to look at. And, yet, even as the film moves headlong toward the big fight, the real plot revolves around Maki’s self-awareness, emotional evolution, and search for real connection. It’s a beautiful juggling act.

Jarkko Lahti, as our lead, is terrific. Performing mostly without words, we are always aware of the torment going on inside him without a hint of over-expression. And the object of his affection, Oona Airola, is both innocent and seductive…always of her small-town roots, yet smarter than everyone in the room. Eero Milonoff rounds out the cast as the promoter who earnestly believes he has Olli’s best interests at heart. There is not a cliche’d performance in the story.

The only thing that sticks out, and not necessarily in a negative way, is the bizarre Venture’s-esque score of Laura Airola, Joonas Haavisto & Miika Snåre. On it’s own, it’s pretty great! But in context of the film, it’s a bit intrusive…while successfully adding levity to the film.

As Finland’s official entry for the Oscar, it would be a towering feat for a veteran director, but that this is Kuosmanen‘s first film, is extremely impressive. Not a fast-moving film, but certainly worth your time.

Written on 10/27/2016

 

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