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The Match Factory Girl (1990)

The Match Factory Girl (1990)

A bleakly comic masterwork of economic storytelling from Finland’s maestro director

The Very Best



Finland, Sweden
Comedy, Drama
Elina Salo, Esko Nikkari, Kati Outinen
69 min


Never has “less is more” been this true.

What it's about

A young woman’s quiet life of drudgery is dramatically upturned after a one-night stand.

The take

With its 69-minute runtime, ultra-minimalist approach to camera movement, and dialogue so sparse it could fit onto a single page, the first word that comes to mind when describing The Match Factory Girl is “lean.” The second word is “bleak”: for most of the film’s slight duration, we watch as the lonely titular character (Iris, played by Kati Outinen) passively endures a relentless barrage of cruelties, whether from her coldly detached parents, callous love interest, or simply fate itself. 

And yet, these words — apt descriptors of the film as they are — only capture part of what makes The Match Factory Girl such a magnetic and unforgettable watch. When a late twist sees the film swerve into even darker territory, director Aki Kaurismäki’s twin approaches fuse into one that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Rendered in his characteristic deadpan style, the shocking event becomes sardonically funny — a gutsy move that only a real master of tone, as Kaurismäki is, could pull off.

What stands out

It’s a real and rare treat to watch a film made by artists in such control of their tools as The Match Factory Girl's are. Kaurismäki and his behind-the-scenes collaborators work in total harmony to tell this simple — yet affecting — story with perfect visual concision. Outinen and her castmates walk in the same step, wordlessly conveying with their bodies things that even a book's worth of dialogue might struggle to articulate. Together, their note-perfect work makes The Match Factory Girl a masterpiece of filmmaking economy.


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