Given the soggy state of foreign films these days (did anyone actually enjoy sitting through Zentropa? Toto le Heros? Indochine?), it doesn’t take much to be the next big thing. The Match Factory Girl, from the Finnish writer-director Aki Kaurismaki (yes, his name really does rhyme), has been greeted in some quarters as a minimalist masterpiece, even though it’s nothing more than a one-joke black comedy. Still, the joke is a good one. Iris (Kati Outinen), the antiheroine, is the ultimate wallflower, a wan, mousy, dishwater-blond assembly-line worker whose life consists of one dead end after another. Iris doesn’t say much, and neither does anyone else in this poker-faced 70-minute fable. Kaurismaki’s Finland is a comic urban wasteland, a pop-Beckettesque tableau of drab factories, drab bars, drab living rooms.
Can we possibly believe in a world this depressed? At best, it’s a cartoon of late-20th-century stagnation. After a while, though, Iris goes on a date, ends up used, rejected, and humiliated, and, like that other waifish wallflower, Sissy Spacek’s Carrie, takes delirious revenge — on everyone. There’s something to be said for a movie that manages to be funny in the face of this much suffocating bleakness. The Match Factory Girl is too precious and calculated to qualify as art. But like a cold slap in the face, it leaves you wide awake and tingling. B+