Hymyilevä Mies (The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki)
If anyone was wondering what it would look like to have Rocco and His Brothers happen in Helsinki, now they’ve got the answer. Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen’s Hymyilevä Mies (The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki) is a candid, unvarnished tale about one of Finland’s first international feats: on 17th August 1962, small-town amateur boxer Olli Mäki fought American world champion Davey Moore during the world championship final – an event that was also the first ever professional boxing match to be held in Finland.
A landmark event in Finnish sporting history, Kuosmanen’s film describes the excitement and about this event, national pride and promises of a Finnish world champion, which put the provincial boxer under intense pressure. Nicknamed the “Baker of Kokkola”, a favourite of amateur countryside pugilism, Olli Mäki (Jarkko Lahti) has several challenges ahead of him: losing enough weight in order to compete in the lightweight category, the epoch-making match itself (which coach Eelis Aski – played by Eero Milonoff – has bet everything on). Above all, his attention is captivated by Raija (Oona Airola), a simple country girl he has fallen in love with.
This is luckily no remake of a Rocky movie. It is as non-spectacular as its main character, his understated persona escaping the glamorous world of professional boxing, sponsors, press, photographers.
Strong stylistic choices definitely distinguish Kuosmanen’s film from other Un Certain Regard entries. Hymyilevä Mies carries a reminiscence of neo-realist aesthetic, the choice of a black-and-white, extremely grainy and rough image paired with the simplicity of its main characters. The often hand-held camera stays close to them, pausing on ordinary moments amidst the hype of the match.
“Finnishness”, Finnish nature and traditions find a central place in Kuosmanen’s film, with sauna scenes that may make international audiences giggle, losing the Finnish normality of nudity in translation (or exportation). One can’t help but glance back at Kaurismäki films, as it seems Finland’s image remains one of vintage cars, rock’n’roll songs and improbably nonchalant marriage proposals even after the legendary director.
A splendidly told and splendidly made debut that certainly impresses, Juho Kuosmanen’s Hymyilevä Mies suggests great promise for the future, with as much deadpan humour as reserved emotional expression, and just the right balance of style and story. A treat for the experts: try to find the real Olli and Raija Mäki’s cameo.
Hymyilevä Mies does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch a clip from Hymyilevä Mies here: