Plot: Iris (Kati Outinen) works at a match factory, one of few humans in an otherwise automated facility. She finds the work tedious and dull, so there’s little purpose for her at work, but her personal life isn’t much better. At home she lives with her mother and stepfather, who have little to do with her, but still expect her to cook, clean, and do all the menial labor in addition to paying rent. She feels isolated even at the dinner table, when her food is often taken and she is judged, even when she just wants to be seen and liked. Her attempts to find attention and companionship are often failures, as she is ignored at clubs and struggles to socialize. Even when she meets someone and explores intimacy, she is spurned afterwards and of course, her family makes sure she feels ashamed in the process. Can Iris find some kind of purpose or happiness in her life or is she resigned to her current lot?
Entertainment Value: If you need a mood boost or a blast of pure entertainment, The Match Factory Girl isn’t going to scratch that itch, but it is a well crafted, memorable cinematic experience. The narrative here is loose, more of a slice of life, character driven piece, but it has a good flow and despite a slow pace, never feels that slow. Even when the movie uses lingering, mostly static shots of Iris and her world, it has purpose and reinforces her isolation. The deliberate pace is still likely to steer off some folks, but I don’t think much time is wasted at all and given the movie runs under 70 minutes, this isn’t a drawn out experience. The tone is downbeat, but feels natural and not overly dark, though things take some odd turns toward the finale. So no, this isn’t an upbeat, feel good kind of movie, but the detached, depressing atmosphere bolsters the film’s narrative and makes sense. The visuals are interesting and a little offbeat, especially in the lingering shots I mentioned before, Iris is a captivating subject and the camera seems to embrace her loneliness. The movie also does little to entertain, at least in the usual sense, but it keeps you hooked, as the atmosphere and mood are so strong, this is just a masterful picture.
The cast here is a small one and while Iris interacts with several other characters, she is the focus of the entire narrative. Her parents and the man she meets at the club have an impact on how things play out of course, but Iris drives the story and the others are much smaller roles. In other words, Kati Outinen carries the movie and that is no simple task, especially since so much of the film is dialogue free and calls on her to emote in nonverbal ways, which not every performer is adept at. But she more than delivers and gives a natural performance, one that is steeped in the internal suffering of Iris, but never feels melodramatic or hard to believe. Iris is downbeat, but she makes the effort and Outinen is able to do a lot with subtle touches, making her a most interesting and memorable character. The rest of the cast is good too, though given less to work with and have natural, grounded performances. The cast also includes Elina Salo, Esko Nikkari, and Vesa Vierikko.