How to stay true to yourself? The Finnish movieThe Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki delves into this universal dilemma. The film is based on a true story that follows the featherweight boxer’s (Jarkko Lahti) grueling training regimen and demanding PR campaign before his championship fight against the American titleholder Davey Moore (John Bosco Jr). The events take place in Helsinki in the spring of 1962.
Olli Mäki’s story is directed by first time feature director Juho Kuosmanen, who wrote it together with Mikko Myllylahti. The melancholic but warm-hearted and humorous movie won the Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Eye for the best international film honor at the Zurich Film Festival. Kuosmanen’s short film The Painting Sellers won the first prize Cinéfondation at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010. After that there has been high expectations for him. “I got interested in Olli’s life because I found a lot of similarities between his story and mine. Like Olli, I felt that people had such high anticipations for me that they were almost impossible to fulfill,” Kuosmanen says.
The down-to-earth director describes Olli as a hero, because he managed to stay on his own path even though outsiders were pulling him in different directions. “He didn’t let others’ opinions change him. The movies main message is: stay true to yourself.” That is advice that Kuosmanen himself followed. “As a filmmaker there is great temptation to please others even though the most important thing is to find your own voice. I am happy I was working with the people I know so I wasn’t afraid of making mistakes. That way I was able to find my own style.” In that respect he chose to shoot the movie on 16mm black and white Kodak tri-x 7266 film.“It helped me to create an early 1960s atmosphere. I was able to focus on the actor’s eyes, expressions and feelings and I didn’t need to concentrate that much on the surroundings.”
Between grueling training and confusing PR events, the shy amateur boxer falls head over heels for Raija (Oona Airola) and dreams of a future with her. His highly ambitious manager Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff) doesn’t agree with that. The complicated situation creates an quandary for Olli who has to decide if a boxing championship more important than love. “My goal was to make as honest a movie as possible. As Czech director Miloš Forman said: “Tell the truth but don’t be boring.” That was my guideline,” Kuosmanen says.