Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen’s first feature, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, won top prize of Cannes Film Festival’ Un Certain Regard in 2016. As Finland’s submission to the Academy Awards, it made it to the infamous short list of nine before being cut out when it came down to five. It should have been in.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is based on real events. In 1962 Mäki got a shot at the World Featherweight boxing title becoming the hero of a nation. But on the way, because of love, he partly lost the will to fight.

Kuosmanen’s film, poetically shot in glorious black and white by J.P. Passi (co-director, in 2012, of the delightful documentary The Punk Syndrome), evolves mainly around the characters of Mäki, his girlfriend and his trainer (colorfully played by Eero Milonoff). What sets Olli Mäki apart from numerous boxing films is the focus on the relationship. There is always, in these productions, a love interest, but they are ultimately about performance. They are not the main course.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is mostly a peaceful and romantic affair with a carefully crafted dose of humoresque moments. Actors Jarkko Lahti and Oona Airola have a good chemistry as a screen couple. The result is a highly sympathetic view of the boxer avoiding the usual portrayal of the beauty and the beast of the ring.

A good boxing film for a date?  You bet.


*** For Montrealers, the film is shown March 16, 17 and 18 , 7:30 PM at PHI.