The Woman without Everything: Finnishness, gender, and class in The Match Factory Girl (1990)


Sanna Kivimäki

The Match Factory Girl (1990) is the third film in the so-called Worker’s or Proletarian Trilogy (the earlier parts being Shadows in the Paradise (1986) and Ariel (1988)) directed by the Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki. Despite a large number of books, articles and reviews on Kaurismäki’s films, commentators have overlooked the special character of The Match Factory Girl. Commentators tend to situate the picture in relation to the earlier films in the trilogy, yet often do not consider the identities of the ”workers”, their gender and age, for example. Rather, interpretations have concentrated on themes such as nationality or Finnishness, internationality, intertextual references and the style of the Auteur. Kaurismäki’s films are repeatedly connected to the melodramatic tradition, which is indeed relevant to The Match Factory Girl. Typical melodramatic topoi of familial and generational conflict, social injustice and city life figure prominently in the film.

In this article, I focus on gender and class, and in particular on the articulation of gender and poverty in Finland at the turn of the 1980s and the 1990s. The Finnish welfare state underwent significant transformation during the 1980s: the rich got richer and the poor got poorer, while at the same time fiction dealt with these new distinctions. When analyzing gendered poverty, I shall borrow ideas from sociology, cultural studies as well as from women’s studies. First I review earlier interpretations of The Match Factory Girl and other Kaurismäki films, paying special attention to formations of ”Finnishness” in commentary on the films. I then analyze The Match Factory Girl, focusing on the way distinctions of gender and class are constructed within Finnishness. I am especially interested in Iris’ voicelessness, in the connection of hetero romance and money, as well as in Iris’ crimes. Finally, I ponder the mixed feelings evoked by The Match Factory Girl in particular, and by contemporary Scandinavian melodrama in general.