' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: The Match Factory Girl (1990)

Friday, February 23, 2024

Friday's Old Fashioned: The Match Factory Girl (1990)

“The Match Factory Girl” brought Finnish director’s Aki Kaurismaki’s Proletariat Trilogy (see: two previous Friday Old Fashioneds) to a close by essentially mirroring the execrable downward mobility of the exploited working class. Indeed, it is the grimmest of the three, by far, and perhaps why it’s also the shortest, running just seven minutes over an hour. If it went any longer, you might be tempted to drink rat poison yourself. But then, I’m sort of giving away the end. No, “The Match Factory Girl” appropriately begins as an industrial montage, two minutes taking us through the processes of the eponymous workshop, seeing exactly how a matchstick, or matchsticks, get made. You’d be forgiven, in this moment, for thinking the machines have won, and not in the Marxist utopian sense but in a John Mellencamp writes an album about Skynet sense. It takes two minutes before we see a human being, Iris (Kati Outinen), working on the matchmaking line, and even then, it takes several more minutes before we hear a person speak. And when we do, it’s not her, it’s her father, and when he does, you wish he wouldn’t, not once, not ever again.

Iris still lives at home, even though her parents treat her like dirt, and falls in love with a man, Arne, who thinks she’s a prostitute, and when she gets pregnant with his kid, he tells her to get rid of the brat. It’s relentless, this movie and her life, living as existing as a series of gut punches. In long shots, Iris seems to disappear amid her drab surroundings, the bleak(er) Nordic version of the Milford Academy stressing that one should be neither seen nor heard. In close-ups, she betrays nothing, her unforgettable visage, the slope of her forehead, like a human eave, the daily rain of b.s. rolling right off. And though Kaurismaki’s entire trilogy might exist on a muddy line between crying and laughing, “The Match Factory Girl” stretches that line the furthest, a movie that virtually sacrifices any kind of commentary to simply sustain itself as one, long grim mood, pushing you and her to the breaking point until finally, at the end, it figuratively twists its lips into a blackly comic grin. Sometimes you just have to laugh knowing that the world is a hellhole from which there is no escape. 

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