Reviews and notes
1990 Berlin, Toronto, New York
2017 Reykjavík, Taipei
Painfully shy match factory worker Iiris (Kaurismäki regular Outinen) ekes out a bleak subsistence in Helsinki, where she is scorned by her ineffectual mother and stepfather and her clumsy attempts at social interaction are met with indifference. When a one-night stand leaves her pregnant and alone, Iris takes matters into her own hands – in spectacular fashion. With Kaurismäki’s characteristic deadpan, The Match Factory Girl
walks a fine line between grim and grimly hilarious.
- BAM Cinematek.
It has the sure touch, inexorable flow and after-effect of a masterpiece. A weirdo masterpiece, to be sure: funky and minimalist, caustic and heartfelt, puckishly wry and despairingly dark. (It) is shot so simply and starkly, with such apparent affectlessness that it becomes hypnotic. Kaurismaki has been the darling of urban American and international film critics for several years… The Match Factory Girl
is clearly the masterwork of his 10-year career. It catches our eyes, burns its images into our mind.
- Michael Wilmington, Los Angeles Times.
So, a “proletariat trilogy” from the eighties by a Finnish director? It doesn’t sound too delightful, does it? But the three Aki Kaurismäki films are delightful, on some level. They all involve people who work at low-level jobs: garbage-men, factory workers of all kinds, shop girls. In the second film, Ariel
(1988), the heroine (Susanna Haavisto) begins as a meter maid giving out tickets, then progresses to jobs where she always seems to be cutting up disgustingly large sides of beef. Yet these movies don’t feel like drudgery, maybe because they aren’t in any way realistic; they take place in a tightly controlled world of their own. I’ve never been to Finland, but I’d be surprised to find even a vestige of Kaurismäki’s grim, deadpan cuteness.
These three films are unusual in several ways. Notably, they all run around an hour and ten minutes, as if Kaurismäki knew that a little of his particular sensibility went a long way. They all use music inventively, either to provide emotion where there is none, or to act as counterpoint to the comically drab lives of the protagonists. The funniest thing about the first film, Shadows in Paradise
(1986), is the title: Kaurismäki’s vision of the Finnish city Helsinki is about as far from paradise as you can get, and you can’t imagine anything in this city that could cause a shadow, either physically or psychically...
The third film in the set, The Match Factory Girl
(1990), is a small masterpiece where Kaurismäki hones a savage story to such a fine edge that it wouldn’t be embarrassing to compare it to the best of Bresson. At its center is Kati Outinen, who played the girlfriend in Shadows in Paradise
. Here she plays Iris, a sullen girl who works in a factory and lives at home with her mother and stepfather. We see her cooking a homely meal for them; afterwards, Kaurismäki juxtaposes TV coverage of the massacre in Tiananmen Square with Iris making herself up to go out dancing. When he cuts to a kitschy, time-warp sort of dance hall, the contrast with the violence we’ve just seen on television is shocking, and funny, too; it signals that The Match Factory Girl
is going to be in a much darker key than the first two films. Iris just sits by herself at the dance hall, sipping an orange drink. Finishing it, she puts it down next to a row of empty bottles, which lets us know that she’s been consuming the same orange drink in one spot for a very long time. It’s the kind of pitiful detail that makes you want to laugh at Iris, but the laugh catches in your throat.
Poor, glowering Iris meets a man (Vesa Vierikko) at another dance hall, and she actually dances with him; the morning after, he puts some money on her dresser and leaves, another moment where you don’t know whether to laugh or cringe. There’s almost no dialogue in The Match Factory Girl
, and when there is, it’s usually a man telling Iris something awful, or insulting, or both. Increasingly hopeless, Iris sits in a movie theater with tears running down her face; gradually, we hear the soundtrack and realize that she’s at a Marx Brothers movie! Clearly, Iris is an inconsolable girl who is inching closer and closer to the edge, and it’s easy to get transfixed by her sour pout, her accusatory blue eyes and the pink scrunchie that holds her blond hair in a tragic ponytail. The last third of the movie, where Iris takes definitive action, is swift, merciless, hilarious and perfectly judged. Outinen does no “acting” whatsoever, yet this is a truly exceptional performance. In its abstract terms, The Match Factory Girl
makes you understand why some people are driven to unconscionable deeds, and the whole movie is a triumph for Kaurismäki and his minimalist methods.
- Dan Callahan, The Criterion Collection Database, 1 December 2006.
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