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[CRITICAL] OLLI MÄKI

OLLI MAKI has been reviewed during its presentation at the Cannes film festival 2016

Shot with a black and white film, THE HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MÄKI plays but not the card of the pageant. The confrontation in 1962 between the boxer Finnish Olli Mäki (Jarkko Lahti) and the champion of the american world featherweight, is only the pretext for the exploration of a tension between the feeling of love and the pressure of success. On the one hand, former communist and a baker in a remote province of Finland is concerned about his flirtation with a young woman (Oona Airola). On the other, the investors, the public and his coach who encouraged him to focus on the game. Thus, the “most beautiful day of the life of Olli Mäki” is not necessarily for the reasons we think at the beginning of the film. The idea is rather simple, but thanks to the remarkable performance of the two main actors, we like to follow this idyll on the bottom of athletic training.

The historical material that operates the director Juho Kuosmanen is still quite limited. We feel that some elements are used to lengthen a plot that would perhaps not have taken on 1h32. The most disturbing is, according to me, the insistence on referring to the developments in the documentary that a television crew comes to film on Olli Mäki to exacerbate the sense of national pride. This process of mise en abîme has exactly the same through in which had dropped Bennett Miller for Foxcatcher. The feature documentary is shown in OLLI MÄKI and Foxcatcher as a means of propaganda, a look that falsifies the truth by staging a real, idealized, of which only the fiction would have the legitimacy to evoke. In OLLI MÄKI, one feels that the documentary is supposed to be a foil for as the fiction on the boxer’s credibility and likelihood. The approach is not very serious because of the documentary films belonging to the cinema verite emerge precisely in the years 60.

In some of his interviews, the director Juho Kuosmanen says that he has been seduced by the story of Olli because of the parallels that he was able to weave between his own situation and that of the boxer. Enjoying a advertising unpredictable with his short film of end of studies, The painting sellers (2010), Kuosmanen has felt the weight of the expectations of the institutions, his entourage and the Finnish public. After such an early exposure, the developer was “forced” to succeed. The social pressure that surrounds the making of a national hero in OLLI MÄKI is thus a mise en abyme of the situation that lived Kuosmanen. Except that without the explanation of this context, the documentary screened in the fiction accentuates the distance between Mäki and the point of view of Kuosmanen instead of bringing them together.

“The few fights and workouts of Olli Mäki are filmed in a style that is very realistic”

Diametrically opposed to this artifice of staging, the few fights and workouts are filmed in a more realistic style that contrasts with the aesthetic expected of films of boxing (hyperrealism testosterone of Southpaw or the black-and-white stylized Scorsesein Raging Bull). The camera does not record any slow motion, the fists are hitting too fast for that they perceive the movement. Only the sound is a testament to the violence of the blows. The final battle, a short, surprisingly, goes to the efficiency and simplicity. The film engages immediately on the romance for a final plan, the duration of which deserves to be savored.

Has back hair in the biopic expected, OLLI MÄKI is not without flaws, but is an excellent first film that marks the beginning of a great career for Kuosmanen on the condition of letting aside the propensity to self talk through his characters.

Thomas Coispel

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