Olli Mäki is one of the most famous Finnish boxers. To the rest of the world, he is a famous boxer you have never heard of. By focusing on the essence of Olli Mäki the individual, the film highlights the superficial motifs of this genre. Through such, it takes a road that the macho boxing films of Hollywood don’t have the courage to take.
3.5 out of 4 stars
The life of Olli Mäki
You cannot not love Olli Mäki. He is a baker who loves to play with children. He literally does not like hurting a fly. While standing beside taller women, he does not feel insecure. This brings us to his height. He is a rather short person. Now, think of all of these qualities, and put it inside a boxer. That is who he is. Olli Mäki is one of the most famous Finnish boxers, who mainly fought in the 60s. To the rest of the world, he is a famous boxer you have never heard of. But you should. It is important that you know about a person like Olli Mäki, who remained a competitive boxer for decades. Yet, he displayed none of the machismo that this sport is so much accustomed to.
Before we delve into the film’s story, let me first give you a brief idea about the professional boxing history of Olli Mäki. After turning professional, he won a record number of 28 fights. In 1964, Olli fought against Conny Rudhof, and won the famous European Boxing Union light welterweight title. Therefore, it’s quite clear that he was a very competitive boxer.
However, this film is not about what he won. It is about his efforts towards achieving the 1962 World Featherweight title. A small Google search will reveal the disastrous results that the shot brought for him. But, the film is not really concerned with that fight. Its focus lies elsewhere, tapping themes deeper than the straightforward genre of macho underdog boxing films ever has the courage to venture into.
The fights of Olli Mäki
It is 1962. Olli Mäki (Jarkko Lahti) wants to take a shot at the World Featherweight title. But this is not the only thing that is going on in his mind. Olli lives in the country. He loves to take his girlfriend on a ride around the village on his cycle. We come to know about what he does and the significance of his future fight only because the villagers are excited about it. A wedding is going on. But the villagers are more interested in Olli’s fight. ‘Which category are you in?’. ‘Why are you not competing in the lightweight category?’, they ask. It is clear that they are more interested in Olli and the fight. They do not ask how famous he might become, or how much he will be earning from it.
That renowned boxers do not earn much is clear when we meet Olli’s mentor and coach, Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff). Elis lives in a small apartment with his wife and four kids. His wife sometimes throws dishes at him because he cannot earn money. But Elis is motivated towards making sure that Olli is at his best on the night of the fight. Olli is supposed to fight against Davey Moore, the then-current world champion. An acclaimed boxer of his own time, Elis feels that the event holds an even higher significance. It is an event that will bring America to Finland. It will also help Olli get rid of his boondock origins. To make sure that Olli is training perfectly, Elis tells him to stay with him in his stuffy house.
Olli brings along his girlfriend with him. At the press conference, where journalists of both America and Finland are present, Olli’s eyes fall on his girlfriend. He realizes that he is in love. From then on, a conflict arises as Elis struggles to keep Olli motivated.
“You’ll go out there and enjoy”
But it is not just about love. The more Olli stays in the city with the bigshots, the more he understands how little his class really matters. Businessmen, who make money out of people like him, are the real thing here. People like Elis are the ones doing the work. But he has to be grateful for whatever little he receives from the business. Before the match, Elis tells Olli to go out there and enjoy the match. But this isn’t about enjoyment anymore. It is about business. he has to win to become a saleable product for the businessmen. Therefore, he has to look fierce. He has to look taller than the woman model who stands next to him for a suit brand ad. Even the documentary they are making about him isn’t real.
But Olli chooses not to be a product. He is a boxer of short height, who does not want to pose aggressively for the camera. Olli prefers going back to his green fields. He finds happiness in practicing there by running with a kite. Even if that means a loss, Olli is happy with who he is.
At one point, someone asks Elis if Olli is a communist. But the film isn’t about communism versus capitalism. It is about the working class and the commodification of it for the sake of commerce. The makers delve deep into the theme of commodification. But they observe the working-class dynamics only marginally. A little more focus on it would have made the film more socially insightful and balanced. However, by focusing on the essence of Olli Mäki the individual, the film highlights the superficial motifs of this genre. Through such, it takes a road that the macho boxing films of Hollywood don’t have the courage to take. These films are the very products that Olli Mäki chooses not to be.
Credits (from IMDb):
Mikko Myllylahti … (written by)