The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki Screen 83 of 12 reviews

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki

2016

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki Poster
  • The film deepens quietly. This is Mr. Kuosmanen’s first feature (he has directed a few shorts), and if he had any rookie jitters you wouldn’t know it. It’s a bit of a narrative slow-boil — the story arrives in pieces, in disconnected scenes and conversational fragments — but it grabs you right from the start. The most obvious reason is the dense, luxuriant black-and-white cinematography, which is very pleasurable in its own right.

  • Where significance lies is unmistakable: not in the boxing ring, where Olli fights for his country, nor at the press conferences where he’s pressured to play up to the media, but in the simple moments of connectedness that he shares with Raija, the woman he loves. There’s something rare and quietly thrilling about the contention that a woman might fulfil a man not by backing his aspirations, tolerating his bad behaviour or giving him motherly pep talks, but simply by being herself.

  • Juho Kuosmanen's first feature, touching and true, is a naturalistic black-and-white boxing film/love story. It is formally audacious, with a glorified verité style and no score, but it also shows a wise, warm understanding of people.

  • Beautifully shot in black and white, the humble and gently melancholy Finnish tale of smalltown underdog fighter Mäki (a pitch-perfect performance by Jarkko Lahti) training to take on an American champion for his title in Helsinki has a straightforward purity that seems miraculously summoned from a past era of realism.

  • Viewers who come under the apprehension that this is any kind of sports film are bound to be thrown by the wryly funny, mild-mannered yet deeply felt movie they find here. Much like the movie’s closest antecedents—Ermanno Olmi’s Il Posto and Otar Iosselliani’s Falling Leaves—The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki succeeds first and foremost as a bittersweet comedy about a gentle-hearted small-town lad who seems equally bewildered by the ways of the world and by the tumults of first love.

  • It's a subtle bait-and-switch of a film, but that’s okay. Certain generic conventions imply that it will head in a certain direction, but I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to tell you that it doesn’t. In fact, the refusal of Olli Mäki—the film and the man—to play by the rules is the most interesting thing it has going for it.

  • It moves with equal parts grace and gracefulness, paying close attention to Olli’s grappling with fame and love without ever looking down upon his very human decisions. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki isn’t the most ambitious film nor, frankly, the most intriguing film, but it works with kind efficiency.

  • A modest-seeming film that hits all of its marks with unusual precision... Throughout the film, [Olli is] trailed by a documentary crew (a detail based on reality) that repeatedly stages faux-verite scenes of Mäki in training, meeting financiers, et al. — in a sly way, Kuosmanen is almost congratulating himself on the high degree of period verisimilitude he’s achieved by contrasting it with the fakery of Flaherty-rooted documentary practices.

  • The long, steady shot of the couple calmly gliding down the road has a lyricism that’s the basis of the movie’s rhythm... Lacking single-mindedness with respect to boxing, Olli concludes that all he needs is love. A lesson for our time? I can only hope.

  • Who is Olli Mäki, and why should you care about the happiest day of his life? These might not seem like urgent questions if you don't possess a wealth of knowledge concerning Finnish boxers active in the early 1960s, but co-writer/director Juho Kuosmanen's answers prove nuanced and endearing... Olli Mäki isn't a knockout, but it does go the distance.

  • Exceptionally modest and unapologetically minor-key, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki homes in on the figure of the beta male who happens to excel at a sport he loves but increasingly finds himself at odds with the competitive mentality on which it operates. The small but seismic developmental stage that ensues... doesn't necessarily resonate as screenwriting gold, and yet Juho Kuosmanen's film commits wholeheartedly to this character study.

  • While [the film] is by no means a standard biopic... its entire existence is predicated on a single slender idea, one that can't quite sustain even a feature as short as this one. Possibly it plays as more radical to Finnish viewers (or boxing fans) who are familiar with Mäki, and thus expecting something else. I assumed throughout that I was watching pure fiction, though, and the film's overall look and feel wound up holding far more interest for me than did its increasingly slight narrative.

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