Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Summer Storm

Summer Storm. George Sanders (judge Petrov), Edward Everett Horton (Count Volsky), Linda Darnell (Olga). Please do click to enlarge the images.

En sällsam bekännelse.
    US © 1944 Angelus Pictures, Inc. PC also: Nero Films (n.c.). Original distr: United Artists Corp. P: Seymour Nebenzal. Assoc P: Rudolf S. Joseph / Rudolph Joseph.
    D: Douglas Sirk. SC: Rowland Leigh – adaptation Douglas Sirk and Michael O’Hara [= Douglas Sirk] – add. dialogue: Robert Thoeren – based on the novel by Anton Chekhov: Drama na okhote (1885), in Finnish Kohtaus metsästysretkellä in the SaPo series of detective fiction (WSOY 1980, translation into Finnish by Valdemar Melanko, cover image from the Emil Lotianu film adaptation), Engl. The Shooting Party. DP: Archie Stout / Archie M. Stout. Second cameraman: Eugen Schüfftan (n.c.). AD: Rudi Feld. Set dec: Emile Kuri. Cost: Lon Anthony, Max Pretzfelder. M and musical D: Karl Hajos. S: Richard DeWeese / Richard de Weese (sound recording), Fred Lau (sound, n.c.). ED: Gregg G. Tallas (collaborating editor). Technical D: Eugen Schüfftan / Eugene Schufftan.
    C: George Sanders (magistrate Fyodor “Fedya” Mikhailovich Petrov), Linda Darnell (Olga Kuzminitshna Urbenina), Anna Lee (Nadena Kalenina), Edward Everett Horton (Count “Piggy” Volsky), Hugo Haas (Anton Urbenin), Laurie Lane / Lori Lahner (Klara Heller), John Philiber (Polycarp, Petrov's butler), Sig Ruman / Sig Rumann (woodcutter Kuzma), John Abbott (Lunin, public prosecutor), Mary Servoss (Mrs. Kalenina), André Charlot (Anton Kalenin), Robert Greig (Gregory, Volsky's butler), Nina Koshetz (gypsy singer), Paul Hurst (Orlov), Charles Trowbridge (doctor), Mike Mazurki (tall policeman bending over Petrov).
    Not released in Finland – 106 min
    According to Sirk the film was mostly shot by Eugen Schüfftan, not credited since he was not a member of the cinematographer's union.
    Another film adaptation: The Shooting Party / Kohtaus metsästysretkellä / Murhenäytelmä metsällä / Olet rakkaani, olet petoni (Moi laskovyy i nezhnyy zver / Мой ласковый и нежный зверь, SU 1978), D: Emil Lotianu / Emil Loteanu, C: Oleg Yankovsky (Kamyshev), Galina Belyayeva (Olga), Kirill Lavrov (the Count).
    A 16 mm print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Douglas Sirk), 31 Aug 2016

Before his evolution into a writer of great tales (The Steppe, 1888) and great plays (The Seagull, 1895; nb. The Wood Demon, a previous version of Uncle Vanya, stems already from 1889) Anton Chekhov was a prolific and versatile writer also of light entertainment fiction, such as The Shooting Party, a first person narrative in which the narrator turns out to be the killer – "Who did it?" "I did it" – a device later brought into play by Agatha Christie in his Hercule Poirot mystery The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), "in 2013, 87 years after its release the British Crime Writers' Association voted it the best crime novel ever" (Wikipedia). There is, however, no reason to think that Christie was aware of The Shooting Party.

The dilemma of Chekhov's narrator is aggravated by the fact that he is a magistrate in charge of justice. He has not lost his sense of justice, but his will-power is too weak, and so in his stead an innocent man is sent to life imprisonment in hard labour in Siberia. Finally the judge writes his account of what has happened, including his confession.

Douglas Sirk was a great man of the theatre in Germany who had gotten a solid start for his film career at Ufa in the 1930s. In Hollywood emigration he was getting restarted on his film career, and together with co-exiles such as producer Seymour Nebenzal and cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan he created Summer Storm.

There is a touch of Hollywood Russia in the atmosphere, but the account of decay and corruption is faithful to Chekhov as well as the psychology of the main characters. George Sanders is excellent as judge Fyodor (Fedya) Mikhailovich Petrov, as is Edward Everett Horton as his best friend, Count Volsky. The female roles remain underwritten, but Linda Darnell is attractive as the sensual Olga Kuzminicha Urbenina, and Anna Lee conveys the role of the sensible Nadina Kalenina very well. Sig Rumann is unrecognizable behind his mighty beard as woodcutter Kuzma, Olga's vulgar father, who gets stone drunk and spoils his daughter's wedding party.

Michael Stern has noted how the very first shot of the film is already characteristically Sirkian: a close-up pan of hesitant feet.

Critics have observed ways in which Summer Storm prefigures later works of Douglas Sirk such as Written on the Wind. There is an affinity between Judge Petrov and Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack). The key sentence "do you remember the rainbow and lake?" reminds us of "look how far we've come from the river?".

Summer Storm is a tale of corruption, but there is an unmistakable flow of sympathy for the human potential of the characters who are drifting on a collision course in the current of life. Sirk always roots for his characters, no matter how ill advised they may be. They are depraved but full of life – and remorse. For Andrew Sarris Summer Storm was about "an ecstasy of irresolution.".

There is a dimension of the sublime here. When Olga is introduced she tells how her mother died in a thunderstorm "of heavenly electricity" and predicts that that is going to be her fate, as well. Her final words to Fedya are, indeed "heavenly electricity". And when Fedya is shot while trying to flee from the militia, he, too, utters those words.

The period of the action has been transferred from the 1880s to the 1910s, before and after the revolution. The account of the Soviet period in the framing story is neutral (the film was produced during a period when USA and USSR were allies). Might this be a reason why Summer Storm has become a difficult film to access?

There is an obsession with the theme of the cancelled wedding in the cinema. In Summer Storm the wedding of Olga and Anton is not cancelled, but to all participants it is obviously wrong, and everyone is ill at ease. Olga the bride leaves her own wedding party, and Fedya meets her for a passionate embrace in another room. Nadina sees them and abandons Fedya's tender dance card to the floor. That is the end of Nadina and Fedya's engagement. The final image of the film is of a waste paper basket with the dance card which Fedya has carried all his life, with the inscription "I love you".

Visually striking passages include the one where the maid Klara sees from a crack of a bathing hut a hand washing the bloody knife with which Olga was stabbed. Equally striking is the scene at the court where Klara realizes to whom the hand belonged.

There are passages of Tchaikovsky baked into the music score. It would be interesting to know the titles of the beautiful Russian romances sung by an old lady and George Sanders with the Romani orchestra.

A film that I was thinking about while watching Summer Storm is La Règle du jeu.

The 16 mm print is somewhat battered especially during the first minutes but it still provides a memorable experience of a rare and important Douglas Sirk film.

Summer Storm. George Sanders (judge Petrov), Robert Greig (Gregory, Volsky's butler) Edward Everett Horton (Count Volsky).

Summer Storm. Linda Darnell (Olga).

Summer Storm. Olga's wedding. Linda Darnell (Olga), George Sanders (judge Petrov, best man at the wedding).

Summer Storm. At Olga's deathbed. George Sanders (judge Petrov), Hugo Haas (Anton Urbenin), Linda Darnell (Olga, Anton's wife). The violent and jealous Anton is about to be convicted for the murder of his wife.

Summer Storm. George Sanders (judge Petrov).


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Le Passé / The Past

گذشته / Menneisyys / Det förflutna. FR/IT © 2013 Memento Film Production / FR3 – France 3 Cinéma / BIM Distribuzione / Alvy Distribution / CN3 Productions. P: Alexandre Mallet-Guy. D: Asghar Farhadi. SC: Asghar Farhadi, Massoumeh Lahidji. DP: Mahmoud Kalari – digital – Arri Alexa, Zeiss Master Prime Lenses – colour – 1,85:1 – distribution: DCP. PD: Claude Lenoir. Makeup: Lucia Bretones-Méndez. Hair: Fulvio Pozzobon. M: Evgueni Galperine, Youli Galperine. S: Thomas Desjonquères. ED: Juliette Welfling. C: Bérénice Bejo (Marie Brisson), Tahar Rahim (Samir), Ali Mosaffa (Ahmad), Pauline Burlet (Lucie), Elyes Aguis (Fouad), Jeanne Jestin (Léa), Sabrina Ouazani (Naïma). Loc: Paris. Original in French. Helsinki premiere: 29.11.2013, distributor: Cinema Mondo, suom. tekstit / svensk text Outi Kainulainen / Markus Karjalainen – dvd: 2014 Scanbox – MEKU K7 – 130 min
    2K DCP from Cinema Mondo
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (French Summer), 10 Aug 2016

Wikipedia synopsis: "Ahmad, an Iranian man, returns to France after four years to finalise his divorce with his wife Marie. On the way to her home, he learns that she has begun a relationship with Samir, the owner of a dry cleaning service and he is to share a room with his son Fouad. At Marie's request, he speaks to her daughter from a previous marriage, Lucie, regarding her recent troubled behavior. She disapproves of Marie's new relationship."

"Ahmad and Marie attend court to complete their divorce. Just before the meeting with the officials, she tells him that she is pregnant with Samir's child. Ahmad continues to counsel Lucie, hoping to reconcile her to the situation. She reveals that Samir is still married and his wife is in coma after a suicide attempt, caused by the revelation that Samir and Marie were conducting an affair. Samir tells Ahmad that his wife suffered from depression and the suicide attempt was in fact caused by an incident with a customer in his shop. His wife was unaware of his affair and he arranges for his employee, who witnessed both the suicide attempt and the incident in the shop, to meet with Lucie. After hearing her story, Lucie becomes distressed and confesses that she forwarded Marie's emails to Samir's wife the day before she tried to kill herself, after calling her at the dry cleaning shop. She disappears and Ahmad and Samir search for her. Ahmad finds Lucie, who has been staying with a friend, and tries to convince her to tell Marie what she did, saying that she had a right to know, now that she is carrying Samir's child. Lucie does so and Marie becomes enraged, telling Lucie to leave. Ahmad calms the situation and Lucie returns."

"After questioning what feelings he may still hold for his wife, Marie tells Samir what Lucie did. Samir finds this hard to accept and questions his employee, Naïma, about the events leading up his wife's suicide attempt, who states his wife wasn't even in the shop the day that Lucie said she called. After Marie accuses Lucie of lying, Lucie maintains her version of events saying that she spoke to a woman with an accent on the phone. Samir realizes that she actually spoke to Naïma, who then gave Lucie his wife's email address. He confronts Naïma, who confesses and explains that his wife had always been jealous of her and had been trying to get her either sacked or deported from France and had initiated the confrontation with the customer. However, Naïma believes that his wife never read the emails, because she came into the shop and choose to drank bleach in front of her, instead of in front of Samir or Marie."

"Samir and Marie discuss the events and their relationship. Marie decides that they should focus on their future, while Samir appears conflicted. Ahmad prepares to return to Iran. He says farewell to the children and attempts to talk to Marie about the end of their marriage, but Marie does not let him stating that she doesn't need to know such things now. Meanwhile, Samir visits his wife in hospital with a selection of perfumes, which the doctors have recommended in order to possibly initiate a response. He sprays on some of his cologne and leans over her, asking her to squeeze his hand if she can smell it. A tear runs down her face and he looks down at her hand, which is holding his.

AA: I found Asghar Farhadi's A Separation (2011) a masterpiece immediately. Yet I saw Farhadi's next film The Past first now, perhaps because of reserved reactions by people I know.

The Past is more plot-driven than A Separation, and it proceeds as a series of revelations where we keep learning things that fundamentally change everything we believed we knew. The film is very well made. Its general sense is about the precariousness of life: how little we know. This has also a distanciating and alienating effect to the characters and the film itself, but not in a Brechtian sense.

A hallmark of the Iranian cinema is the strong presence of children, and that is a strength of The Past, as well. All the children – Léa, Fouad, Lucie – are important, individual, and interesting. The young actors are brilliant. The grown-ups have made a mess of their lives. I bambini ci guardano. These children are disturbed, and we feel concerned for their need of a basic security.

My main problem with The Past is about what sense we should make of Marie. Either her character is underdeveloped – or the viewpoint of the director on her is underdeveloped. Marie's grip on life is not very good, but what should we make of that?

My verdict: The Past is imperfect. But I look forward to seeing all films by Farhadi, one of the most distinguished directors working today.

The Past is the first Farhadi film that has been shot digitally. It is largely a chamber piece where the digital is perfect in interiors. Exteriors look ultra sharp in a digital kind of way.

P.S. 14 Aug 2016. Douglas Sirk: "I am extremely interested in the contrast between children and adults: there is a world looking at another world which is going downhill, but this new world does not yet know if its own fate will be the same... The look of a child is always fascinating. It seems to be saying: is that what fate has in store for me, too?" Jon Halliday: Sirk on Sirk. London: Secker & Warburg with the British Film Institute, 1971, p. 107


Sunday, August 07, 2016

The Quiet Man

The Quiet Man. In memoriam Maureen O'Hara (1920–2015). Mary Kate Danaher meets the desperate Sean Thornton who is riding like a wild man.

Vaitelias mies / Hans vilda fru. US © 1952 Republic Pictures. PC: Argosy. P: John Ford ja Merian C. Cooper / (ass P: Michael Killanin) / Republic / Herbert J. Yates. D: John Ford. SC: Frank S. Nugent – adapted by Richard Llewellyn – based on the story by Maurice White (Saturday Evening Post, February 1933). DP: Winton C. Hoch – Technicolor – 1,37:1. Second unit cinematography: Archie Stout. M: Victor Young.
    Songs: “The Isle of Innisfree” (original song for the movie, Richard Farrelly 1950), perf. Maureen O'Hara, "Galway Bay" (Arthur Colahan), ”The Humour Is On Me Now” (trad arr. Richard Haywood), ”The Young May Moon” (Thomas Moore) perf. Maureen O'Hara, ”The Wild Colonial Boy” (trad., adapt. Sean O'Casey and Dennis O'Casey), ”Mush-Mush-Mush Tural-i-addy” (trad., adapt. Sean O'Casey and Dennis O'Casey), "Rakes of Mallow" (trad.), "Rising of the Moon" (trad.), "I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen" (Thomas Payne Westendorf 1875), "The Kerry Dance", "Barbary Bell", "Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms" (trad. 1808), "Mitty Matty Had A Hen" (trad.).
    AD: Frank Hotaling. Set dec: John McCarthy, Jr., Charles Thompson. Cost: Adele Palmer. ED: Jack Murray, (Barbara Ford). Cost: Adele Palmer. S: T. A. Carman, Howard Wilson – mono (RCA Sound System). Technicolor consultant: Francis Cugat.
    D: John Wayne (Sean Thornton), Maureen O’Hara (Mary Kate Danaher), Barry Fitzgerald (Michaeleen Oge Flynn), Ward Bond (Father Peter Lonergan), Victor McLaglen (Squire ”Red” Will Danaher), Mildred Natwick (the widow Sarah Tillane), Francis Ford (Dan Tobin), Eileen Crowe (Mrs. Elizabeth Playfair), May Craig (fishwoman with basket at the railway station), Arthur Shields (Reverend Cyril Playfair), Charles B. Fitzsimons (Hugh Forbes), James Lilburn / James O'Hara (Father Paul), Sean McClory (Owen Glynn), Jack MacGowran (Ignatius Feeney), Joseph O’Dea (train guard Molouney), Eric Gorman (engine driver Costello), Ken Curtis  (Dermot Fahy), Mae Marsh (Father Paul's mother).
    Loc: Ireland (County Mayo, County Galway).
    Helsinki premiere 13 March 1953 Aloha, released by Astor Filmi, re-release by Lii-Filmi – telecast: 1.4.1967 TV2 etc. – VET 37902 – K8 – 3546 m / 129 min
    A NFI print with Norwegian subtitles by Per Aaman
    Viewed at Cinema Orion (Maureen O'Hara in memoriam), 7 Aug 2016

Revisited The Quiet Man which I had not seen for a while. John Ford is my favourite director (or one of my three favourites), and The Quiet Man has a special link to my favourite John Ford film, Young Mr. Lincoln. Cinema is an art form with a special attraction to violence. The subject for me of Young Mr. Lincoln is that of a man who displays great courage in stopping violence. It is the portrait of a peacemaker who knows how to act in turbulent times.

The Quiet Man is about a boxer, a professional fighter who has stopped fighting after killing a man in the boxing ring. Sean Thornton (John Wayne) has become profoundly aware of the potentially murderous impact of his fighting skills. He regrets having killed a good man, making a widow of his wife, and rendering his children fatherless. Sean has fought for money, and now all money for him is tainted, blood money.

The terrible dilemma at Innisfree revolves around the fact that Sean must fight Will Danaher (Victor McLaglen) in order to win his sister Mary Kate's (Maureen O'Hara) love. If Sean does not fight, he will lose Mary Kate. And if he fights and kills Will, he will lose Mary Kate, as well.

The related dilemma is about Mary Kate's dowry. The furniture, the spinette, and the £350 are essential to her. Sean does not take them seriously, because money and property for him are tainted and he is independently wealthy now. He must learn to understand the dowry's symbolic value, similar to the ancestral home for him. The dowry is Mary Kate's link to the tradition, the heritage, the past generations, the legacy. They are about her very identity. Also the act of the donation of the money is important as a symbol of independence. When she has finally received the money, Sean and Mary Kate unanimously throw it to the fire. Its function has been accomplished for Mary Kate. Burning the money clears it for Sean. Now Sean has not chosen Mary Kate as property, as a commodity. And now he is free to fight Will because the fight no more is connected with money.

The fight between Sean and Will is a fight of friendship, making brothers of them.

For John Ford The Quiet Man was special and unique. For him it was his only love story – which should be qualified: in the sense of a love affair between a man and a woman being the center, the raison d'être of the work. It was also a potential "last film" for him during a period when he was not certain whether he would care to continue directing.

The Quiet Man is a grown-up love story. It is about love at first sight. Both Sean and Mary Kate turn serious at moments of mutual recognition. This is no longer one among many. This is the one. This is it. End of search. A matter of gravity.

The seriousness in the key moments is the distinction of The Quiet Man which is generally a humoristic tale with a lot of singing. The revelation of love is a revelation of one's self. The other one is inscrutable, unavoidable. Falling in love this deep means redefining oneself, reinventing oneself. This is serious business, an irresistible journey to the unknown. It is also a meeting of equals, the end of freedom as a single, and the beginning of a freedom in union.

John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, long term family friends, convey this perfectly. We sense the love in their looks, on their faces, in their movements. It is a spiritual bond. It is also a physical attraction. The physical side is even expressed via objects: Mary Kate's reaction to the sight of Sean's king size bed being transported to his home. That same bed being crushed by Sean when he throws Mary Kate on it ("Impetuous! Homeric!" is Michaeleen's comment when he sees that bed next morning and draws his own conclusions). And her reaction to the sight of the cradle which she has inherited from her mother and grandmother.

"I love red hair", says Abraham Lincoln to Ann Rutledge in Young Mr. Lincoln. So did John Ford. (And Michael Powell, but that is another story). Maureen O'Hara, above all; and Katharine Hepburn, among others. Red is a colour of passion, temperament, and an independent spirit.

The Quiet Man was Maureen O'Hara's favourite film. It was also a film that Peter von Bagh often mentioned as his personal favourite film, including in Matti Salo's extensive poll in Filmihullu magazine about "my personal favourite film". Peter's favourites changed, and The Quiet Man was not always necessarily included in his top ten film lists. I do not know why he favoured this very film. He wrote about it at length, for instance in the book Elämää suuremmat elokuvat [Films Bigger Than Life], but I doubt the answer can be found there.

The Quiet Man is a fairy-tale film like Brigadoon, a pastoral idyll, a wish-fulfillment dream. "Is that real?" asks Sean when he sees Mary Kate for the first time, and Michaeleen mentions the word "mirage". Within its fantasy approach The Quiet Man is serious about the great issues of love and violence. It is great in its poetic touch, mixing comedy, romance, and action in wonderful balance. There is a vivid sense of a community living with the elements of nature.

Favourite moments of mine: the desperate Sean rides like a wild man and meets Mary Kate who looks disturbed (see image above). Sean and Mary Kate walk to the graveyard; a thunderstorm breaks out; Sean covers Mary Kate with his jacket. The flashback to the fatal boxing match; the look on Sean's face. The scene by the fireplace: Mary Kate has learned Sean's secret; the affectionate reconciliation. The morning: the grief on Sean's face when he realizes that Mary Kate has gone.

Secrets: the brief passage of dialogue conducted in Gaelic. And the final whisper by Mary Kate to Sean's ear.

The print is no good, and the duration is only 118 min, yet this was a powerful experience.

P.S. 29 Aug 2016. At home we discussed the John Wayne walk. On screen John Wayne was a paragon of masculinity, although John Ford called him a "sissy" because Wayne was a draft dodger (where the much older Ford served in heavy duty, at great cost, missing lucrative Hollywood projects). The question of a gay aspect in John Wayne's performance was first suggested for a wide audience in The Midnight Cowboy. Famously, it is one of the biggest jokes in the French hit play La Cage aux folles written by Jean Poiret in 1973. Laurent, the son of a Saint Tropez night club owner and his gay lover, is about to bring his fiancée's ultraconservative parents to dinner, and in no time the flamboyant lover needs to learn to act like a man. The club owner suggests he should walk like John Wayne, and both are stunned at the revelation. "Actually, it's perfect. I just never realized that John Wayne walked like that" (this wording is from the Mike Nichols film adaptation, written by Elaine May, starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane). To make things even more complicated, John Wayne learned his walk in imitation of John Ford. It is a personal version of a sailor's walk and a cowboy's walk.


Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Hymyilevä mies / The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki

Den lyckligaste dagen i Olli Mäkis liv. FI © 2016 Elokuvayhtiö Aamu. Co-production companies: Tre Vänner, One Two Films, Film Väst. P: Jussi Rantamäki. D: Juho Kuosmanen. SC: Juho Kuosmanen, Mikko Myllylahti. DP: J-P Passi – 16 mm (Kodak Tri-X) reversal film – b&w – 1,85:1 – released in 2K DCP. AD: Kari Kankaanpää. M: Miika Snåre, Laura Airola, Joonas Haavisto. Cost: Sari Suominen. Makeup: Salla Kaarina Yli-Luopa. S: Pietu Korhonen - Dolby Digital 5.1. ED: Jussi Rautaniemi. C: Jarkko Lahti (Olli Mäki), Oona Airola (Raija Jänkä), Eero Milonoff (Elis Ask), Joanna Haartti (Laila Ask), John Bosco, Jr. (Davey Moore), Esko Barquero (Snadi), Elma Milonoff (Evi), Leimu Leisti (Tuula), Hilma Milonoff (Anneli). 93 min
    Released in Finland by B-Plan Distribution.
    International sales: Les Films du Losange.
    2K DCP with English subtitles by Aretta Vähälä from B-Plan Distribution.
    Introduced by Mia Vainikainen, Mickael Suominen, Manna Katajisto, Anna Möttölä.
    Press screening at Cinema Orion (Espoo Ciné press screening), 2 Aug 2016

Boxing films have a distinguished history from some of the earliest films from Thomas A. Edison to the present day. We remember Keaton (Battling Butler), Hitchcock (The Ring), Wyler (Shakedown), Lloyd (The Milky Way), Mamoulian (Golden Boy), Walsh (Gentleman Jim), Rossen (Body and Soul), Wise (The Set-Up, Somebody Up There Likes Me), Huston (Fat City), Hill (Hard Times), Stallone (the Rocky series), Scorsese (Raging Bull), Sheridan (The Boxer), great Muhammad Ali films (When We Were Kings), several Clint Eastwood films (Million Dollar Baby), and Tarantino (one of the stories in Pulp Fiction).

All this is well-known to the director Juho Kuosmanen, and all this is blithely ignored by him in his saga of the biggest boxing event ever in Finland. Hymyilevä mies [The Smiling Man] is not a film based on other boxing films. It emanates an authentic sense of being both on the proudly provincial home turf Kokkola of Olli Mäki and his girlfriend, and in Helsinki, the capital of the country, no less provincial although there may be a pretense otherwise.

The Helsinki Olympic Stadion, filled to 23.000, was the stage for the professional boxing match as Olli Mäki fought Davey Moore for the World Featherweight Title in August 1962. He was beaten in two rounds. The mystery of Mäki's blatant loss is the subject of the film.

Olli Mäki (born 1936 in Kokkola) was the most talented boxer in the history of Finland. He was a favourite for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, but he was removed from the Olympic team by the Finns for political reasons because Mäki refused to resign from TUL, the Finnish Worker's Sports Federation.

Juho Kuosmanen's approach is humoristic. We have a big strategy – and a total failure. How could this be? Olli Mäki is in great shape when he lands in the hands of the manager Elis Ask, himself a former boxing champion. Strategic mistakes are made. Olli Mäki is booked for the fight at too short a notice. As a professional he has only ten fights under his belt where his opponent Davey Moore has more than sixty. Mäki needs to lose seven kilograms weight in a month, to fight in a series of 57 kg which is not his comfort zone. "61 kg would have been just right". (Mäki had won medals in the category of 60 kg and would be at his best later at under 63,5 kg). Mäki fights although he has no chance to win.

Although the sport event is professional, Elis Ask's handling of it is amateurish. He invites Olli Mäki to stay at his home but is evicted by his wife who throws him to the street with their children and Olli Mäki. Ask is efficient in finding sponsors but that requires a lot of PR energy from Olli Mäki who is fundamentally incapable of handling the PR circus. Let's put it this way: Olli Mäki is the diametric opposite of Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali who thrived in publicity. The fuss with Ask's ineptitude and the PR buzz distracts Olli Mäki seriously. He is never discouraged but he may start to be unconsciously giving up, no longer one hundred per cent focused on the fight.

The simple way to explain the mystery of Olli Mäki's defeat: bad management.

But then there is the most crucial thing: Mäki falls in love during the training period and is terminally distracted. Jarkko Lahti and Oona Airola convey the budding romance charmingly. Their love is so great that it makes Olli Mäki feel hardly anything when he suffers the crushing loss at the biggest boxing fight in the history of Finland. He becomes a stranger in his own fight thanks to the wheeling and dealing of Elis Ask. Simultaneously he finds his true self, his perfect happiness in the company of Raija.

"The easiest fight of my life", is Olli Mäki's baffling comment. "I did not have time to feel anything, it went so fast".

The love theme is introduced in the most direct manner in a wedding sequence in the beginning of the movie. We hear the wedding ceremony at the church ("but the greatest of these is love") and hear Friiti Ojala's "Wedding Waltz" sung by Oona Airola as Raija to the words of Wiljami Niittykoski ("Nuoruus onnen aika armahin on elon tiellä ihmisen"), different from the Tuula Valkama lyrics famous from the Tapio Rautavaara interpretation. The stirring musical performance is by the Mäkipelimannit and Ykspihlajan Kino-orkesteri bands.

I happened to see during the same week Hymyilevä mies [The Smiling Man] and The Quiet Man, two stories of love stronger than boxing. And two stories about proudly original provinces: Kokkola and Innisfree.

But the film that comes to my mind from Hymyilevä mies, rather than all those great boxing sagas, is Walt Disney's Ferdinand the Bull. Embarrasing everybody, Olli Mäki is almost apologetic towards the adversary whom he has to fight, and he is always ready with a bunch of flowers for him.

The visual look of the movie, although digital, comes from cinematography conducted on black and white Kodak Tri-X 16 mm reversal film designed predominantly for newsreels. There is a harsh actuality look in the movie.

PS. 15 Aug 2016. I have revised a credit thanks to comments to the blog.