The Match Factory Girl
1990, NR, 68 min. Directed by Aki Kaurismäki. Starring Kati Outinen, Elina Salo, Esko Nikkari, Ves Vierikko.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 2, 1993
Minimalism reaches new heights in Finnish director Kaurismaki's 1990 film The Match Factory Girl. With only 70 minutes running time and, seemingly, not more than two dozen total lines of dialogue, The Match Factory Girl spins a compelling narrative, a devastating cultural portrait and an object lesson in the less-is-more school of storytelling. Though Kaurismaki's shots are physically economical, his unsettling presentation makes them memorable. A shot sometimes lingers too long, or cuts too quickly, or foregrounds the apparently trivial -- a quirky, unpredictable rhythm and focus that disallow viewer comfort and safe distance. This visual style, along with his signature deadpan humor, has earned Aki Kaurismaki (who often works in conjunction with his brother Mika) a reputation as one of the seminal European filmmakers. His most widely distributed U.S. film so far has been Leningrad Cowboys Go America. Iris (Outinen) is the match factory girl, a young woman trapped in a dismal existence who, when pushed to the precipice of despair, seizes back control of her destiny. Iris spends her days working on the factory assembly line, getting the life sapped out of her much like the timber that's steadily cut down to matchbox size all around her. At home (in an apartment on Factory Lane) she silently hands her paycheck over to her mother and stepfather who treat her like a thankless servant who must also cook for them and pay rent while they watch news reports of the Tienanmen Square uprising on TV. Her evenings are passed in a dreary dance hall where she's the picture of a sad wallflower with whom no one dances or converses. Then, one day, she raids her paycheck to buy a red dress that she notices in a store window, goes out to a somewhat brighter tango bar and catches the eye of a handsome stranger. They wordlessly dance, go back to his apartment and when she awakes the next morning, he's gone. Seduced and abandoned, her later attempts to rekindle his interest are met with his frosty response, “Nothing could touch me less than your affection.” (These are the only words he ever speaks directly to her and with conversation like that, who needs more than 20 or so lines of dialogue in a movie?) Eventually, she finds herself pregnant and at that point, she devises her own warped scheme of liberation. In a director's statement accompanying Match Factory Girl, Kaurismaki states that he wanted “to make a film that will make Robert Bresson seem like a director of epic action pictures.” Aside from giving us an amusing clue to his moral and aesthetic reference points, it is clear upon watching that Kaurismaki has succeeded in his goal.