When Iris-supporter of her parents through a dead-end job in a match factory-gets pregnant after a one night stand, she decides that enough is enough and seeks to achieve a sort of self-realisation through revenge.
This was the seventh feature from prolific and unpredictable Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, claiming, with breathtaking lack of modesty, to beat the great Robert Bresson at his own game.
Certainly, The Match Factory Girl emulates Bresson in that it is pared down to the bare bones of action and dialogue, and is relentless in its exposure of a life without hope. Iris (Outinen), a plain girl with a doormat nature, works on a soulless assembly line in a match factory. At night she repairs her home - an ugly, cramped, damp-infested flat - and waits hand and foot on her dour stepfather and defeated mother, both of whom she supports; her only escape is to dance halls, in a futile search for the dreams promised by the lyrics of popular songs.
One evening, having bought a garish and ill-advised dress, she gets picked up by a wealthy man, who dumps her and leaves her pregnant. Her parents throw her out, and the combined humiliations of her sad little life finally unleash a quest for self-respect through revenge.
This gritty chronicle of despair, seasoned with subtle ironies and unfolded with the matter-of-factness of a Grimm's fairy tale, is thoroughly absorbing. Note, too, the superbly photographed and edited opening sequence among the machines of the match factory.
Grim, dark and difficult to take your eyes off of, one that deserves to be watched quietly and undisturbed.