Amid the mechanical din of the automated assembly line is the quiet despair of a lost soul. Her name is Iris (Kati Outinen), a dour, impassive young woman who oversees the labeling of matchbox packages. She performs her task with silent, methodical precision: removing duplicates, moistening unaffixed labels, tamping down curled edges. Riding home on a public bus, her time is spent reading vacuous romance novels. Her home life provides little comfort to her overwhelming sense of loneliness – her mother (Elina Salo) and stepfather (Esko Nikkar) sit transfixed in front of the television until she calls them to dinner, where table conversation proves to be equally nonexistent. After finishing her chores, Iris changes into her best clothes and goes to the local dance hall. The perennial wallflower, she patiently sits as the ladies around her are asked to dance, while she attempts to occupy her time by sipping beverages and listening to sentimental love songs. And so the sad ritual of Iris’ alienated life progresses until one day when she impulsively decides to spend her wages on a red dress. Punished by her parents for squandering the rent money, Iris is ordered to return the dress, but instead, goes to a nightclub where she catches the eye of a reticent man named Arne (Vesa Vierikko). But as the camera captures alternating glances of Arne’s abstracted composure and Iris’ enraptured euphoria, it is evident that their union is not the great, consuming love that she longs for. When Arne’s repeated attempts at severing their relationship become too blatant to ignore, Iris’ desperation takes hold.
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.
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