Though shot in black and white, the Finnish film ‘The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki’ (2016) is full of sparkle and color. Its cinematographer, J. P. Passi told an amused screening audience at IFFI 2016, “though your Bollywood has much color and dance, this film of ours has very little dance, and no color!”
Passi is based in Riihimäki, 70 kilometers from Helsinki. In conversation with The Peacock about his biopic featuring little-known Finnish boxer, Olli Mäki and his wife Raija, he said “they are lovely people. Olli was very polite and always acted like a gentlemen towards his opponents. He never wanted to knock them out.” Now the real-life Olli and Raija have become big fans of the movie (in which they make a brief appearance on screen), “they go to watch it every time they get an opportunity.”
Though Mäki lost a much-hyped bout to the American Davey Moore in 1962, you have to watch the film to find out why he doesn’t regret it. “Olli himself said that it was the happiest day of his life,” Passi explains.
92 minutes long, the black and white feast has generated an unlikely global interest in Finnish films.
“Our industry is small,” says Passi, “particularly compared to India. We have about 20 premieres to your 2000 every year.” It is not surprising, therefore, that “nobody gets rich” in Finland making movies. Even within Europe, Passi admits that Finland – and therefore Finnish cinema – is marginal, “we are a small country and a bit isolated.” But that also has advantages, as political turmoil in Europe doesn’t have much direct impact. “I don’t know about the future,” he declares, “that’s the great thing about the future.”
Passi isn’t a big fan of the Finnish film industry. “I am not that interested in Finnish films. Most of them suck,” he says, “I have to be honest, many of them are childish.” According to him, most films in Finland are blatantly commercial, “I feel that I am not a part of the Finnish industry”. This means freedom from formula, so that ‘The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki’ could focus “on the most humiliating part of Olli’s career. We felt that this was the most interesting part.”
(A version of this article was first published in The Peacock, 23 November, 2016)