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The Match Factory Girl (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on July 23, 2014

It had been over 5 years since my last viewing of this movie.  In my memory, it was much funnier, filled with the style of stone-faced deadpan comedy that Kaurismäki is known for.  There is humor here, especially as the tale works towards its black conclusion, but on the whole this is the Finnish director at his bleakest.  And yet, it’s not a doom and gloom sort of bleakness.  As dire as Iris’s situation is, as horribly as people treat her, there is too much affection for her — and paradoxically, too much stoic detachment as well — for it to be a “depressing” film.  I would still call it a black comedy, not because of the number of laughs but because the blackness is kept at bay.

Criterion bundles this as part of Kaurismäki’s “Proletariat Trilogy”.  The director himself would never use such lofty terms.  But it certainly is a working class story, with sympathy for the forgotten cogs in the machine.  Iris lashes out to be recognized as a relevant member of her small society, her morbid rebellion an act against society at large.  Her defiance, which starts with the simple act of buying a dress with the money she earned at her dreary factory job, is sparked by the image of a lone figure standing up against the tanks at Tiananmen Square.  Iris’s rebellion is not as grandiose, but it’s borne out of a need to be acknowledged as a human being.  Class and social standing isn’t necessarily part of the equation, but it’s clear that Aarne (the main target of her revolt) is in a position of some higher privilege.  His disregard for her is analogous to the disregard society has for its workers.  Though it’s worth noting that the lower classes aren’t all heroes… Iris gets it just as bad from her apparently unemployed stepfather.

As always, Kaurismäki traffics in an ultra-minimalism.  There is little said.  The only spoken dialogue in the first 20 minutes (of a 70-minute film) is Iris ordering a beer.  Much of the remaining dialogue is equally transactional.  The economy of the film is masterful — it tells you exactly what you need to know, and not a bit more.  Kaurismäki is more concerned about letting you occupy a space with his characters than telling you about them.  Or occupy a space without them, as in the lingering final shot… those extra seconds let us really feel the absence of Iris, and maybe hope she will reappear through the doorway.  The visuals are decidedly unfussy, but nonetheless have a striking sense of tone, with muted, drab pastels that are occasionally punctuated with flashes of color.  And, of course, there is Kati Outinen.  Outinen carries the whole weight of the film — and her dire existence — on her shoulders, and does so with a face that speaks volumes with so, so little.  Her expressions are so blank that when she does finally smile, it feels like a monumental occasion.

If the film isn’t as funny as I recalled, it is no less gripping.  Kaurismäki effortlessly draws you into his rhythms, his world of quiet desperation, with running commentary by a soundtrack of the usual rock obscurities and pointed (but charmingly cheeseball) ballads.  It was the first movie by the director that I ever saw, and seeing it again brings back the same enthusiasm to see more.  Rating: Great (93)


One Response to “The Match Factory Girl (rewatch)”

  1. […] 126. The Match Factory Girl (1990, Aki Kaurismaki) […]

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