TIFF 2016: The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki Review

Discovery

Shot on gorgeous black and white 16mm film, first time filmmaker Juho Kuosmanen brings the perfect mix of humour and European arthouse sensibility to this sweet tale of love and boxing.

We all know the story of Rocky Balboa. An amateur boxer is plucked from obscurity and given a shot at the world championship because everyone loves an underdog. Many believe real life boxer Chuck Wepner was the inspiration for Stallone’s Oscar-winning, franchise-starting hit, although Sly denies this. Wepner finally gets his story told in a new film, but this is not that film. While The Bleeder (also playing at TIFF) tells Wepner’s story, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is about another boxer whose story draws obvious parallels to the Italian Stallion’s as well, and like Rocky, this is primarily a love story.

In 1962, with only a few professional fights under his belt, Finnish featherweight Ollie Mäki fought American Davey More for the World Featherweight title. Despite an overbearing manager/ trainer who’s clearly trying to vicariously relive his own days in the ring, Mäki cares much more about spending time with Raija (Oona Airola) than he does about training for the fight. It’s easy to see why he’s in love with this small town girl, a natural beauty with a face that lends itself well to the period and black and white photography, reminiscent Cybill Shepherd in The Last Picture Show. She rarely leaves Olli’s side, and for the first part of the film, I assumed they were already husband and wife, which is why it’s a little confusing when 20 minutes in Olli confesses to his manager that he’s fallen in love. Poor timing and a disapproving manager are about the extent of the conflict, as the two are clearly meant for each other, all that stands between them is the big fight. 

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The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is a romantic, funny, and beautiful film that keeps your attention even if there isn’t much conflict. It’s so rare to see a film that looks and feels like this these days that you could advertise it as an overlooked film that was made in the ’60s and most people probably wouldn’t question it. 

Screening: 

Saturday Sept. 10, 5:30pm @ Scotiabank 4

Monday Sept. 12, 4:15pm @ Scotiabank 13

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Sunday Sept. 18, 5:45pm @ Scotiabank 3

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