03 August 2010
Following the order of the "Proletariat Trilogy" (only a trilogy in a thematic sense, thankfully), this one builds on the tone of the last two to be sure. The main difference that I see, the thing that separates this from its predecessors, is that Iris (the match factory girl in question) is the only main character in any of the three stories not already hardened by a certain kind of hopeless acceptance (read: surrender). She's still vulnerable, soft, and more to the point victimizable, because she's still full of hope and dreams. Part of what made Shadows in Paradise and Ariel interesting to me was the nonchalant hopelessness of the world, the way the characters had already given up trying, and took things like doors of opportunity opening up only to slam shut in their faces (in both case, due to untimely deaths) as part-and-parcel of what the universe had to offer. Notably in Shadows, within the first ten minutes, Nikander's friend and would-be benefactor says, "I'm not going to die behind the wheel." Nikander asks him, "Then where?" and without the slightest hint of irony or hesitation, he declares, "Behind a desk." There's no hope of avoiding misery and frustration and isolation. There's just choosing what you do in the meantime and how you go out. I think the reason Nikander and Kasurinen are able to find love is because they've accepted this, and so have the women they meet, and the romances are hilariously cold, straightforward, and gloomy. More like two people embracing so as not to freeze to death (so quickly) than two people hoping for any kind of joy from one another.
Iris, though, she hopes for something more. She's young, naive, and believes in love, and for that we watch her get punished by the world. What saves this from being an endlessly cruel story is her third-act turnaround, her (SPOILER) transformation (by failed suicide-by-auto?) from innocent starry-eyed wallflower into black comedy murderess. There's no question this one ups the blackness and the comedy from the last two. And it works, and it's funny -- and it's so streamlined, at 68 minutes long, that it couldn't possibly overstay its welcome. Plus, it helped me think out some "solitary humorous-pathetic" moments for the script I'm working on. Yet personally, I think my favorite of the three lies somewhere between Shadows and Ariel, somewhere closer to humor-from-hopelessness rather than humor-from-the-world's-cruelty. But I still love all three, and don't understand why nobody else knows of this guy. He falls into the same category as Teshigahara and Hong Sang-soo and many others, foreign filmmakers who are underrated (here), all tough to sell people on, but so rewarding once you bother. I guess I'll just keep pushing.