The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from Germany, Scandinavia, Finland & Austria list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
The conclusion of Finnish writer-director-editor Aki Kaurismäki’s “proletariat trilogy,” Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö opens with a brilliantly edited passage recording working-class dehumanization. Various machines, each alienatingly noisy, are shown operating at a match stick factory; not a single worker is visible. (Sounds throughout the film are preternaturally loud.) Finally we see Iris (Kati Outinen, wonderful), alone, performing quality control on an assembly line conveying boxed matches. When she leaves, no conversation passes between her and the one co-worker we see. Home, Iris cooks for Mother and Stepfather; no words pass among them. The human voice we finally hear belongs to a television news anchor noting the Tiananmen Square massacre. A man sings a rather hopeless love song at a dance, where Iris, unpicked, remains alone on a bench. She sleeps alone. “A small beer”: before silently reading magazines, including at a laundromat, Iris makes this modest purchase.
Aki Kaurismäki’s suspenseful, bleak, concise, very funny comedy finds Iris turning over the remainder of her paycheck to her parents after buying herself a red dress and black shawl. Her stepfather slaps her resoundingly across the face; her mother instructs her to return the dress. She looks adorable in the outfit at a nightclub, though, where a man, Aarne, mistaking her for a prostitute (despite her restrained makeup, unassuming demeanor), silently dances with her before taking her home. He leaves money; she leaves Aarne a note, signing it “Iris.” We now know her name.
Iris writes Aarne, who is white collar, a long, warm letter informing him she is pregnant; he sends a check along with the note, “Get rid of it.” Accidentally she does—when (offscreen) she is hit by a screeching car. At hospital, Stepfather evicts her. Iris buys rat poison, exacts revenge all around.
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