With its 70-minute running time and minimalist aesthetics, Aki Kaurismaki's The Match Factory Girl is so slender it barely qualifies as a feature. This downbeat tale of a homely girl looking for love and a life proceeds at a crawl, reflecting the drudgery of the working-class existence it documents. The quotidian drabness is perfectly visualized by Kaurismaki's economical camera work, which captures a decrepit city devoid of warmth and kindness. Focusing on a morosely timid girl, Kaurismaki constructs a world of almost unbearable meanness. Blithe cruelty abounds in this movie, from the oppression by the girl's mother and stepfather (reminiscent of a dark fairy tale) to her nonchalant rejection by a sleazy man who impregnates her on a one-night stand. The curious absence of compassion and redemption, coupled with the recurring theme of cash transactions, seems to amount to a political statement, evoking a world worn thin by an uncaring capitalist system. In its own miserablist terms, this unremittingly bleak work can be considered a success. Whether or not it is a success that audiences would want to subject themselves to is another matter.
by Elbert Ventura review