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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki

by writer/director Juho Kuosmanen

Keeping up the Smile

The Finnish title of The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is Hymyilevä mies, which can be translated as “Smiling Man.” Obviously this doesn't mean the same thing outside of Finland where it is normal and acceptable to smile, even for men. In Finland, at least in the ‘60s, it was something weird, something suspicious. Real men don’t smile.

Olli Mäki was a peculiar man. Olli was a great boxer who never wanted to knockout any of his opponents. Sometimes he was even smiling in the ring which was strictly against the rules. You shouldn't do that; it’s too confusing and disappoints the audience. They have paid to see blood, not smiles.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki focuses on Olli’s fight against American ruling world champion Davey Moore in 1962. This was a huge spectacle, the biggest sporting event in Helsinki after the Olympics in 1952. After two years of his professional career in boxing, Olli had his chance of a lifetime. Something his manager, Elis Ask, never had, and something that turned the attention of the whole nation towards him. But the problem was that Olli didn’t want to stand in that spotlight. Even though Olli and Elis shared the thought that this day, August 17th, should become the happiest day in Olli Mäki’s life, they had totally different ideas of what actually determines one’s happiest day.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki deals with the contradiction between your public image and your inner feelings. In public, you need to play the part that others have written for you, and you often have to hide your own feelings if they don’t align with that role. Olli never fit within the traditional role of a masculine boxer, so basically he had to hide his whole identity. He was supposed to take things seriously, stop smiling and start hitting harder. But for Olli, the whole idea of boxing was more like a play.

I had my own moment in the spotlight after I won 1st prize in the Cinéfondation selection at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010. After that, I was regarded as a promising young director in Finland. It felt nice of course, but at the same time I realized that my situation as a filmmaker had completely changed. And the worst thing was that I actually started to believe that I was that young, promising director who was smiling in the magazines—but the fact was that I was not young and I didn’t even know what I had actually promised and to whom. I wondered if I should start acting like a real European filmmaker? To take a deep look at the horizon, and try to look like I would actually see something in there? Or am I still allowed to stay like this? Doubtful, scared and still searching for something.

The story of Olli Mäki was easy to relate to. I found it comforting that with this story of a young boxer, I could deal with the same emotions I was experiencing as a debut filmmaker. I was scared to make my debut film after my student film had won this precious prize in Cannes. The pressure was killing me. I was afraid to lose that hint of success that I had in my hands for a second. I was not free, I was just trying so hard to make something that would please all those expectations, that I kept ending up with a few pathetic ideas of social dramas, even though I wanted to make something that could make people smile again, at least something that would make me smile.
 
The story of Olli Mäki’s happiest day made it possible for me to start smiling again. With this story, I could start laughing at all the expectations that almost destroyed my career—a career that hadn’t even started yet. This story helped me to redefine what the whole idea of success means. With the help of Olli Mäki, I found the love of filmmaking again.

The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki is a story about smiling, about happiness, and I hope it will make you smile as well. We need it now more than ever.