3 Best Movies to Watch by Outi Mäenpää

Staff & contributors

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.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Elina Salo, Esko Nikkari, Kati Outinen, Klaus Heydemann, Outi Mäenpää, Reijo Taipale, Richard Reitinger, Silu Seppälä, Vesa Vierikko

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

An early gem from Finnish maestro Aki Kaurismäki, Drifting Clouds is a deceptively simple story. The aftermath of job losses for wife Ilona (Kati Outinen) and husband Lauri (Kari Väänänen) holds a series of misfortunes, all of them tests to their marital bond. But this is only the beginning: as with Kaurismäki's endearing use of flat irony and detached performances by regular actors of his, things can only get worse before they get better. Humanism has always shined through the director's films, and this first part of a "Finland" trilogy makes no exception to the rule: the fact that labor and closeness are the two main themes (and are equally important for one's survival) already elevates the absurdist comedy to something way more caring, engaged, and ultimately, tender.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Aarre Karén, Antti Reini, Clas-Ove Bruun, Elina Salo, Esko Nikkari, Kaija Pakarinen, Kari Väänänen, Kati Outinen, Markku Peltola, Mato Valtonen, Matti Onnismaa, Ona Kamu, Outi Mäenpää, Pentti Auer, Rose-Marie Precht, Sakari Kuosmanen, Silu Seppälä, Sulevi Peltola, Tero Jartti, Vesa Mäkelä

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

The magic of this movie — and every other one directed by Aki Kaurismäki — is in the way it inspires so much hope despite the darkness of its subject. When a man (Markku Peltola) is beaten and robbed one night, he wakes up without any memory of who he is. Forced to start life all over again, he’s subjected to yet more cruelty at the hands of a greedy slum landlord and callous authorities, but finds sympathy and support from his equally downtrodden neighbors. Though the street thugs have emptied his wallet, the unquestioning generosity of the people around him suggests he’s now richer than he was at the film’s outset — as does the sweetly simple romance he strikes up with a lonely Salvation Army worker (Kati Outinen). 

Kaurismäki doesn’t just make films about the disenfranchised for the sake of it: he shows us how easy — and yet momentous — acts of human kindness and solidarity can be, how radical they are in a bleak world. It’s not often a movie can so persuasively reassure us of people’s inherent goodness, but it’s even rarer still for it to be done with as much deceptive, charming simplicity as here.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Aarre Karén, Aino Seppo, Andrey Chernyshov, Anneli Sauli, Antti Reini, Elina Salo, Esko Nikkari, Janne Hyytiäinen, Juhani Niemelä, Kaija Pakarinen, Kati Outinen, Liisa Mustonen, Markku Peltola, Olli Varja, Outi Mäenpää, Panu Vauhkonen, Pentti Auer, Pertti Sveholm, Sakari Kuosmanen, Silu Seppälä, Sulevi Peltola, Vesa Mäkelä

Director: Aki Kaurismäki