Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki: Juho Kuosmanen Finnish Boxing Biopic Wins Top Award of Certain Regard

The Finnish boxing biopic, The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki,  scored big in this year’s Un Certain Regard competition at the Cannes Film Fest, winning the top prize from the jury headed by Swiss actress Marthe Keller.

“Thank you for your weird taste in cinema,” stammered flabbergasted “Olli Mäki” director Juho Kuosmanen upon accepting the final award for the black-and-white period piece, his first feature film.

The film, set in 1962, covers a few weeks in the life of the eponymous Finnish pugilist, a former European lightweight champion, as he gruelingly prepares for a world featherweight title fight against American champion Davey Moore.

Shot in richly textured, monochrome 16mm format, the film spends less time in the ring than it does on the underdog fighter’s exhausting training and publicity circuit.

Warmly received by Cannes audiences, it will surely be a title to contend with in the next foreign-language Oscar race.

Origins of the Film

Kuosmanen felt pressure after winning the Cinefondation Prize in 2010 for “The Paining Sellers,” which meant that his feature would land a slot in Cannes.

As a result, he found a “relatable character who gets this chance of a lifetime and blows it.”  Indeed, Olli Maki has a shot at a world boxing championship, but is more preoccupied with falling in love.

Reading Joyce Carol Oates’ “On Boxing” also helped him, as did watching cinema verite documentaries and old Hollywood films like The Set-Up and Body and Soul.

The director has previously worked with his leading man on two shorts and in the theater. “Jarkko is a decent boxer, and he’s been training since 2011, when I got the idea. One of his trainers was Olli Maki’s son.”