Monday, December 08, 2008

The Match Factory Girl: Grade A

The Match Factory Girl (1990/2008)
Kati Outinen. Writer and Director Aki Kaurismäki. (Finnish, subtitled).

This new release of the classic 1990 film is a masterpiece of minimalism. A poor, urban young woman works in a factory that produces wooden matches. She gives her meager salary to her exploitative mother and ugly stepfather. There is virtually no dialog in the movie, few utterances of any kind. It's almost a silent movie, and eerie because of that. All the feelings and conflicts are illustrated visually, in a masterful use of the medium.

The woman is not depressive, despite palpably depressing surroundings, but she is withdrawn; not shy but with nothing to say. She plods through life without complaint, like the worn, functional machinery in the match factory. In an uncharacteristic one-night stand, she becomes pregnant. The baby’s well-to-do father rejects her and her parents throw her out of the apartment. Alone and defeated, she executes a childish revenge on the paternity offender and on her parents. It is a stupid plan and she is quickly caught by the police. What is striking is the woman’s flat, mechanical dullness. She is not unintelligent, but unknowingly oppressed by poverty, lack of opportunity and lack of imagination. In her vengeance she is not enraged but matter-of-fact. The effect is haunting.

This is the third in the director’s “Proletariat” trilogy, the only one I have seen. This release is an “Eclipse” edition, a line of classics like the Criterion Collection. Eclipse offers high quality versions of hard to find films like this one, at low cost, without the remastering and supplementary material of Criterion. I am grateful for Eclipse, because without it, this wonderful glimpse into the life and mind of lower class Helsinki would have never come my way.

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