I’m not ashamed to admit I enjoy the occasional boxing movie, and I’m not alone – they’ve been a cinema staple quite literally since the movies began. Do I subconsciously take vicarious pleasure in watching complete strangers beat the living tar out of each other? Heavens, no – for me, it’s all about the dramatic journeys traveled by washed up pugilists hanging in there for one last payday (The Set-Up, 1949), underestimated underdogs beating the odds (Rocky, 1976), and exploited newcomers falling prey to crooked managers (The Harder They Fall, 1956).
In other words, these movies are about The Struggle – no one wants to watch a film where the protagonist smoothly and effortlessly glides to victory every time, championship belt lodged firmly around his midriff. With Hymyilevä mies (The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, May 5th), that is definitely not cause for concern.
Finland’s great hope for boxing glory in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, Olli Mäki remains a household name in his chilly and damp Scandinavian homeland. Consequently, Finns probably consider The Happiest Day a routine celebratory biopic; all others will likely judge it a character study about a distracted man suffering a crisis of confidence.
Beautifully shot on made-to-order black and white Kodak 16mm stock, director Juho Kuosmanen’s film depicts Olli (Jarkko Lahti) as a man being pulled in two directions. His impending championship fight against American titleholder (and future Bob Dylan subject) Davey Moore (John Bosco Jr.) should be the focus of his attention, but he’s recently fallen hard for pace-setting bicyclist Raija (Oona Airola).
Without giving too much away, the title bout is a brief one. Their love confirmed in the face of adversity, the film’s Olli and Raija take a charming riverside stroll together, passing on their way an elderly couple portrayed by the real-life Olli and Raija. It’s a lovely end note to a very sweet movie.
Admirers of Indian cinema and film preservation enthusiasts are in for a real treat this weekend at Pacific Film Archive. Screening at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 6th as part of the series ‘Safeguarding Cinema: Film Archivists in Person,’ 2012’s Celluloid Man is a two and a half hour tribute to the late Indian archivist P.K. Nair.
Almost singlehandedly responsible for preserving what little remains of India’s pre-war cinematic legacy, Nair (who died last year) spent decades traveling vast distances to rescue decaying reels of film stored in suboptimal conditions. Celluloid Man salutes his legacy through interviews with dozens of Indian filmmakers and clips from impossibly rare films none of us are otherwise ever likely to see. Director Shivendra Singh Dungarpur will attend the screening.
Finally, for those willing to do a little traveling themselves, San Francisco’s Roxie Theater plays host this weekend to a terrific series entitled ‘A Rare Noir is Good to Find 2’. The eleven features on offer truly are rare and in most cases unavailable on home video, but if you only had time for one I’d recommend Petla, a dark Polish tale of alcoholism. Also noteworthy is Cash Calls Hell, an excellent Japanese yakuza thriller I’d never heard of before. Heck, make a weekend of it and take in the whole series – you won’t be disappointed!