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Finland, 1989 (MIFF 1990, Spotlight Kaurismäki )

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Humiliation and torment constitute the basic conditions of Iris's life. She is exploited at the factory, where she endures the drudgery of the production line, at home, where her parents hog her salary and the meat chunks from her soup, and then in a dancehall, where she meets a man who takes her back to his apartment for a one-night stand that has dire consequences.

Kaurismäki cites Robert Bresson and Alexander Mackendrick as the only two living masters of cinema. Their influences are well evidenced here. Using a style as spare and minimal as a Bresson film, he turns this portrayal of anguish into a wickedly sardonic black comedy as the mousy heroine, like the protagonist of Mackendrick's The Sweet Smell Of Success, re-arranges the seemingly inexorable circumstances of her existence.

But unlike other Kaurismäki films, the characters here are very realistically drawn and the settings - the production line of a factory, a living room where a television shows the tanks rolling into Tiananmen Square, the sterile modern apartment of a middle-class architect - are eminently recognisable.

Combining acute social observation with dead-pan humour, The Match Factory Girl is both a comic variation on the theme of a victim taking revenge on her tormentors and a wry critique of exploitation and social alienation in contemporary Finland. With its restrained pace and tightly controlled direction, it is arguably Kaurismäki's most accomplished film to date.
- (PKa)

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