Kaurismäki - 2013 08 02 - The Match Factory Girl

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THE MATCH FACTORY GIRL
(Tulitikkutehtaan Tyttö)
Finland, Sweden 1990
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
Running time: 68 minutes
Format: 35mm

THE MATCH FACTORY GIRL is the final entry in Kaurismäki’s “proletariat trilogy.” Kati Outinen plays Iris, the film’s even tempered but viperous anti-protagonist. Her first collaboration with the gallows-humored director was four years earlier in the first of his working class parables, SHADOWS IN PARADISE (1986). She would go on to do eight more films with the prolific director, winning the Best Actress award at Cannes for her role in THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST (Kaurismäki, 2002).

Tonight’s film is unreservedly the most saturnine offering of the trilogy. Both SHADOWS IN PARADISE and ARIEL (1988) end with a seafaring vessel whisking their protagonists away from mortal danger. This notion of the sea as the site of liberation is a ubiquitous presence in Kaurismäki’s work. The sound of a barge horn ringing through an open window signals the hope of escape. In ARIEL, Taisto (a kind of adult James Dean – that is, a rebel with a cause) eludes a pack of prowling canines by diving into the sea. This taunting hope of getaway is immanent to the dramatic impact of tonight’s feature, even when that hope remains as tightly clenched as the handle of a Kaurismäkian beer mug.

One wants to mention Kaurismäki’s sense of humor, but any such mention runs the risk of overstating the case. His actors deliver rigidly controlled performances that might resemble something like Nadine Nortier’s in MOUCHETTE (Bresson, 1967) if not for the fact that they appear entirely unstyled. Kaurismäki’s faces are ruled by a Nordic quietude and stoicism. This results in a kind of deadpan, incidentally-lit humor that evokes a more dispassionate Éric Rohmer. His characters are never aware of the levity of their circumstances or the ironic compositions in which they’re framed.

Where Bresson’s character’s crippling interiority resound throughout their austere environs, Kaurismäki enrobes his in expressive counter-milieu. Pop music, often diegetic and lyric-driven, emotes in ways that extend a continuous line of negating selfhood outward from the inner, functioning as a kind of indulgence for the Finnish sin of feeling. Then there are the technologies that inhabit his mise en scène. While splendidly stocked Karaoke machines are a staple, their kind are only a fraction of the onslaught of motific machinery. A spurious claim: this film stamps, grinds, presses, collates, sorts, collects and cores more than any film since MODERN TIMES (Chaplin, 1936). The sound of those conveyor belts match pitch with the winds of the Laplands. Syncopation. An exotic lyric. “Somewhere beyond the ocean / there is a distant land / where warm waves / softly caress / its ever-joyful sands.”

KURTISS HARE
02 August 2013