Magazine article Screen International

Cannes Q&A: Juho Kuosmanen, 'The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki'

Magazine article Screen International

Cannes Q&A: Juho Kuosmanen, 'The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki'

Article excerpt

The Finnish director makes his debut feature with a boxing story more about romance than the ring.

Juho Kuosmanen makes his feature debut with The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Maki, based on the true story of the Finnish boxer who has a shot at the world championship in boxing in 1962, but is more preoccupied with the love of his life, Raija.

The film, which premieres in Un Certain Regard on Thursday May 19, is produced by Aamu Film Company, One Two Films, Film Väst and Tre Vänner. Les Films du Losange handles sales.

Did you grow up knowing the story of Olli Maki?

I knew about Olli Maki because I am from the same town he is [Kokkola]. Then I went to see a theatre play that was about him....but that wasn't really about Olli Maki. I started to think about what kind of story would I tell about Olli Maki. Maybe there was a different angle. I had some ideas that I was developing for my first feature but this story stayed in my mind. I knew about the championship fight, and I learned about his engagement after doing some research. I got more interested.

I felt that it needed to relate to this character who gets this chance of a lifetime, who blows it. I was preparing my first feature film knowing it would screen in Cannes (his 60-minute film The Painting Sellers had won the Cinefondation prize in 2010). It felt like quite big pressure when writing, but with this kind of story I could deal with those same issues and emotions I was having myself. It was fun to deal with this old boxing story and somehow also put myself in there.

It seems you love characters, not boxing.

I was in love with this set up, but the problem for me was the boxing (laughs) and it's a period piece. If someone had to asked me a few years ago, 'Would you like to make a boxing film set in the '60s? I would say, "No absolutely not." I think it worked well that we weren't that interested in the period and also showing the violent side of boxing. We were more interested about the characters, and the things "backstage."

When I started to follow boxing, I went to see the weigh-ins and the rehearsing and press conferences. I thought those things were more interesting, the things that are hidden, not in the foreground. I was interested in the private, not the public.

I guess you didn't study Rocky and Raging Bull?

I Watched lots of boxing films but I also watched boxing documentaries. And then I read some books about boxing - my favourite one was Joyce Carol Oates' On Boxing.

I had watched so many bad boxing films and I thought, "This is not going to work, I can't escape this boxing theme in the film." But this Joyce Carol Oates book gave me like the courage to continue with this.

I watched a lot of films dealing with boxing but were there not that genre like Rocky. Like films by Jerzy Skolimowski and old boxing films like The Set-Up and Body and Soul. There are lots of boxing documentaries worldwide, about boxers that we don't actually know. And Sons of Cuba, about young kids learning boxing.

But I also started to like watching matches, and my reaction to how I was watching boxing was complicated.

You shot on 16mm, and a special black-and-white stock?

When we tested different film materials and digital and we felt that with this Kodak Tri-X black-and-white film stock, we almost don't need post production or colour grading because we really felt this material takes us to the '60s. …

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