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  Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki, The Nothing Without A Woman Or A Girl
Year: 2016
Director: Juho Kuosmanen
Stars: Jarkko Lahti, Oona Airola, Eero Milonoff, Joanna Haartti, Esko Barquero, Elma Milonoff, Leimu Leisti, Hilma Milonoff, Olli Rahkonnen, Joonas Sartaamo, Henrik Palosaari, Sam-Peter Hirvikangas, Aanti Naaka, Niklas Hyvarinen, Sauli Helenius, Jussi Lohijoki
Genre: Romance, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Olli Maki (Jarkko Lahti) is a Finnish boxer who has, by 1962, won the European Lightweight title and now is geared up to take on the World Champion, with the entire nation of Finland behind him and expecting him to succeed. This has put quite a bit of pressure on the man, and frankly he is feeling it, not relishing the media circus that goes on around this occasion, but one person is lightening the weight on his shoulders, and she is Raija (Oona Airola), who is an assistant his manager Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff) has been working with. She makes the sun shine a little brighter when she is around for Olli, but Elis is worried she may be actively distracting him from the big fight...

Originally titled Hymyileva mies in its native Finland, this was a biopic about a once-famous Finn who may have fallen off the world's radar in about 1964, when he had his last big success, but proved under the direction of Juho Kuosmanen that pretty much every public figure, big or small, could legitimately have a decent story in them worth telling: you simply had to find the right angle. The angle here was as simple as it was universal, and that was love, as we discover Olli may be a talented boxer, but at heart he is too sweet-natured to make an impact on the global stage, because what he would actually prefer to do was not punch faces, but be with his beloved.

Yet this was no sappy, soppy romance, it may come on modestly from the beginning, but after a while you may well be oddly affected by Olli's weighing up of his options. Raija was no unrealistic dream girl, either, she does not make a big deal of being attracted to Olli, and her reciprocation is a gentle, playful, but at times painful one. Obviously she could do without seeing him beaten up in the boxing ring, but knows this is his job and she had better step out of the way as Elis wants her to, though when Olli "escapes" mid-training to be with her, she is well aware that he is the man for her, and how good together they are, the trials and tribulations of sport be damned.

Although her publicity came a few years later, this film's treatment of mental health in sport could be linked to the complaints of Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka, who found that while she was able to win tournaments, the accompanying media obligations and exposure had her suffering a breakdown. Here we see this is nothing new, as Olli must lose a few pounds in weight to fit into his class, but cannot face the training in front of the press and public, never mind the limelight that he is forced into by dint of being very good at what he did. His solution here is to go off to the middle of the Finnish nowhere and train as hard as he likes there, though he still has to return to the big city for the bout, which has left the country in a near-frenzy of expectation he is reluctant to square up to.

There was a scene after Raija has retreated home where Olli returns to the fairground he had had a fun time with her at, and sees the bikini-clad model, who is dunked in a water tank for the public's amusement, backstage in her dressing room, wiping away the tears. It resonates with Ollie and his heart goes out to her: the public only care about their own enjoyment, not for the contentment of the entertainers they selfishly demand to perform for them. But more than that, it focuses his desire to spend the rest of his days with Raija, because it is she, not the work, not the pressure, that makes his life worth living. Although it initially appeared a minor effort, its win at Cannes demonstrated it had touched a lot of people who had given it a try, its black and white photography deftly creating an authentic look and mood on an admittedly careful budget, but its emotional reach even more convincing than that, just a really heartening movie. Keep an eye on the elderly couple at the end - the credits will tell you why.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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