The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki
(Juho Kuosmanen, 2016)

Jakko Lahti in a scene from Juho Kuosmanen's The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki {Photo: MUBI}

Jakko Lahti in a scene from Juho Kuosmanen's The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki {Photo: MUBI}

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki screens at the AMC River East 21 on Wednesday, October 19 at 5:45PM, Thursday, October 20 at 8:30PM, and Monday, October 24 at 3:15PM. For additional ticketing information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here

With its sumptuous 16mm black and white photography and unfussy narrative, I’m disappointed that I didn’t take to Juho Kuosmanen’s sophomore film, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki moreSome of it has to do with its reputation; when deciding to sample the picture, its Un Certain Regard victory was a particular selling point. The credential carries its own set of expectations that could not be fulfilled.

It makes sense to compare Olli Mäki to John G. Avildson’s Rocky, as both films disguise their boxing genre aspects with softer romantic qualities. And halfway through Olli Mäki, the question of whether there will be any boxing at all seems likely. But whereas Rocky balanced its boxing and romantic components through an exquisite working-class grit (not to mention the unique charisma and chemistry of Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire), Kuosmanen’s European arthouse sensibilities seem curiously at odds with Mäki’s text. The film is drained of any particular vitality, with Jarkko Lahti performance as the titular character coming across as stiff and disinterested. As it’s often the case, the object of the protagonist’s affection is typically more interesting, and Oona Airola as Raija offers a performance not without its charms. But, as it is often the case, she’s stripped of any particular agency that would make her anymore compelling beyond a love interest.

There’s no denying that Kuosmanen displays a clearheaded formal proficiency that dictates Olli Mäki’s more tender moments, but when it comes to the final climax, there’s a dispirited and defeated quality that pervades the picture. As if Kuosmanen’s obligations to tell the story of Olli Mäki forces him to deal with components of his life that he has no active interest in. That disinterest is felt intensely and the film suffers for it.