The Match Factory Girl
A film by Aki Kaurismäki
1990/ Finland/ Runtime :70 mins
1st June 2014; 5.45pm
Perks Mini Theater
The Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki often portrays unremarkable lives of unrelenting grimness, sadness, desolation. When his characters are not tragic, he elevates them to such levels as stupidity, cluelessness, self-delusion or mental illness. Iris, the match factory girl, incorporates all of these attributes. His camera stares at her, and she stares back. She is a pale blonde, slender, with a receding chin and eyes set deep in pools of mascara.
Her job at the match factory is boring and thankless. She is one of the few humans among the machines. She takes the tram home to Factory Lane, where a shabby alley door admits her to the two-room apartment she shares with her mother and stepfather. In the evenings she goes out seeking companionship, and is ignored. At the club, nobody asks her to dance. In the early scenes of this film Iris doesn't smoke at all. When she finally lights a cigarette--with a match from her factory--it summons visions for her; ideas of revenge. We watch as she acts on these notions.
Aki Kaurismäki creates a wickedly incisive and fascinating dark comedy in The Match Factory Girl. In characterizing the unremarkable protagonist, Iris, with an inexpressive, Bressonian demeanor, Kaurismäki reflects the sustained, dispassionate cynicism and alienation of contemporary society. Furthermore, the pervasive silence, emotional callousness, and physical isolation reflect the innate loneliness and dehumanization of the soul.
Unable to find connection in her cruel life, Iris lashes out at her oppressive environment with the same familiar detachment that has sustained her through disillusionment, abuse, humiliation, and heartbreak, and in the process, destroys all that is left of her dignity and humanity.
Aki Kaurismäki, born in Finland in 1957. After graduating in media studies from the University of Tampere, Aki Kaurismäki started his career as a co-screenwriter and actor in films made by his older brother, Mika Kaurismäki. His debut as an independent director was Crime and Punishment (1983), an adaptation of Dostoyevsky's novel set in modern Helsinki. He gained worldwide attention with Leningrad Cowboys Go America. Kaurismäki has been influenced by the French directors Jean-Pierre Melville and Robert Bresson. He has tried and managed to stick totally to the inseparable realities of the real world His minimalist style is all his own (and that of the great cinematographer of all his films, Timo Salminen); he never entered the Finnish Film School (as he was suspected to be "too cynical").
Much of Kaurismäki's work is centred on Helsinki, such as the film Calamari Union, the Proletariat trilogy (Shadows in Paradise, Ariel and The Match Factory Girl) and the Finland trilogy (Drifting Clouds, The Man Without a Past and Lights in the Dusk). His vision of Helsinki is critical and singularly unromantic. Indeed, his characters often speak about how they wish to get away from Helsinki. Some end up in Mexico (Ariel), others in Estonia (Shadows in Paradise, Calamari Union, and Take Care of Your Scarf, Tatjana). The setting of most of his films is the 1980s, or at least contains elements from that decade. Kaurismäki is, in fact, almost single-handedly responsible for rejuvenating the failing Finnish film industry in the 1980s with a series of highly original comedies made with his brother Mika. Over the past twenty years, Kaurismäki has become one of the pre-eminent auteurs of international art cinema, fusing minimalism and melodrama to poignantly depict the hardships of Finland’s blue-collar class.