The Match Factory Girl

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The Match Factory Girl
Directed by Aki Kaurismäki
Produced by Aki Kaurismäki
Klas Olofsson
Written by Aki Kaurismäki
Starring Kati Outinen
Cinematography Timo Salminen
Edited by Aki Kaurismäki
Distributed by Kino International (United States)
Release dates
12 January 1990
Running time
68 minutes
Country Finland
Language Finnish
Box office SEK 131,180 (Sweden)

The Match Factory Girl (Finnish: Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö) is a 1990 Finnish-Swedish film written and directed by Aki Kaurismäki, the final installment from his Proletariat Trilogy, after his Shadows in Paradise and Ariel.[1] It follows Iiris, a young, plain-looking factory worker living a lonely, impoverished and uneventful life in late 1980s Finland. Iiris is played by Kati Outinen, who had appeared in a number of other Kaurismäki films.[2]


Iiris is withdrawn and friendless, living with her older, alcoholic and unsympathetic mother and stepfather. Looking for escape she seeks company in a nightclub but receives none. Life goes on unchanged until one day she buys a dress using money from her work check, which is usually given to her mother and stepfather. She gives them the money left over but is told to take the dress back. She doesn’t and instead receives 500 markka from her somewhat estranged brother who may not realize the money will be given to her mother. Soon afterwards one night she dresses up a little nicer than usual and goes to the nightclub, where she is selected for a dance by a mysterious man and spends the night with him. The next morning the man leaves her a 1000 markka note when leaving the house. Before leaving his apartment, she leaves him a note with her name and number which says call me. Her life continues on the same but she seems happy, maybe even naively in love. She waits for his call but never receives one, during the early evening she walks by his apartment building and sees his car, but the lights are off and she leaves. About a day or two later she waits outside his apartment door until it opens and a woman leaves, she waits another moment and rings his doorbell. He answers and she asks why he didn’t call, he seems occupied and even bothered, telling her that he will pick her up tomorrow at 8. She gives him her address and leaves.

The next night we see a more affectionate side of her mother, who helps Iiris get ready for her date. Iiris’s date sits in another room with her stepfather. It is quiet and no one speaks; even when Iiris’s mother sits down and pours coffee, no one speaks. Next, Iiris and her date leave and he opens the car door for her. The scene cuts and they are seated at a restaurant table where he asks Iris how her food is and she replies that it is good. They sit together for a moment and the man tells Iiris there is no future between the two of them and she should leave, so she does. He seems relieved when she is gone.

Some time passes and Iiris is at work, she becomes sick and throws up. The next scene is at a doctor’s office where she is told it is nothing bad, she is pregnant, Iiris takes it quietly and leaves the office. Later at work she tells a co-worker on break smoking, who merely says, "is that so", puts out her cigarette and leaves. Iiris decides to write a letter to the father of her unborn which says even though he wants nothing to do with her, that maybe this baby will be a good thing for him, and give him someone to love, and possibly in years to come he will maybe grow to love her. She waits for him at his work and when she sees him, gives him the letter and leaves.

She receives another letter from him which she reads at home, it says "get rid of the brat" and includes a 10000 markka check. She becomes distraught and leaves the room, her mother who is in another room, sees this and finds the reply letter Iiris left behind. As this happens, Iiris is upset, pacing down a sidewalk, walking off camera into the middle of the road and is apparently hit by a car and shortly hospitalized, also losing her baby. In the hospital room her mother’s man shows up with the 10000 markka check and tells her that both he and her mother think she should move out because Iiris has let down her mother. He leaves the check and an orange on the bed stand beside Iiris and leaves. Iiris eats the orange as she lies in bed.

After Iiris is released we see her and her brother packing up what little she has from her mother’s house and leaving for her brother’s apartment. He leaves her the key and goes out until the evening. Here she has reached a breaking point and sits with a juke box playing, smoking a cigarette (apparently for the first time).

Frustrated, rejected and in despair, she buys rat poison which she mixes into a small bottle and keeps in her purse. She goes to her lover's apartment and enters. She tells him to get a drink, and sits down on a couch. When he brings two drinks over she merely says, "ice", he goes to bring her some from the kitchen. Iiris quickly takes the bottle of rat poison out of her purse and pours some into his drink. He returns and gives her some ice, she grabs her drink and sits for a moment saying that she just came to say everything was taken care of and that he need not worry for this will be the last time he sees her. She takes the check of 10000 markka out and gives it back to him, then drinks most of her glass, sets it down and leaves. The man sits there quietly, pulls his wallet out of his jacket, and puts the check away. He seems content with the way everything has worked out, and grabs his drink. For a moment he pauses then he drinks.

Iiris stops into a bar afterwards, orders a beer, takes a seat and reads a book, a man sits beside her and she smiles at him as she takes the bottle of rat poison out of her purse and pours some into his glass. He smiles back, she gets up and walks away then the man finishes his drink.

The next time we see Iiris she is seated outside her mother’s home, her mother arrives shortly after and leaves the door open when she goes inside. Iiris prepares a meal for her mother and stepfather and pours the rest of the rat poison into the water they will drink during the meal. She tells her mother and the man that dinner is ready, and waits in the next room smoking a cigarette and listening to music. After some time she gets up to check and sees their off camera dead bodies on the floor, then leaves.

The last scene shows her at work, where two police officers come to her and they walk away.


Roger Ebert wrote that he "watched hypnotically. Few films are ever this unremittingly unyielding...What made it more mesmerizing is that it's all on the same tonal level: Iris passively endures a series of humiliations, cruelties and dismissals."[2] He included the film in his 2011 list of greatest movies.



  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ a b Ebert, Roger. "The Match Factory Girl (1990)"., 2011. Retrieved 8 June 2012.

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