Radio humorist Garrison Keillor gets a great deal of mileage poking fun at the taciturn ways of Swedish and Norwegian-Americans in the bleak Midwest. By comparison, Aki Kaurismäki’s similarly Nordic Finnish Fins make the citizens of Lake Wobegone seem like a bunch of raging drama queens. Kaurismäki is known for blending clever ultra-deadpan comedy and classical neorealist filmmaking, and since I love the former and just barely tolerate the latter, his works tend to be a hit and miss affair for me. Nevertheless, the definite class of this no-frills three-disc set from Criterion’s Eclipse line — comprised of three short feature-length movies about the lives of working folks who get themselves into bad, bad trouble — is also, however, the least overtly funny. 1990’s “The Match Factory Girl” is an ultra-dry twist on the pathos-heavy Hans Christian Anderson tale starring Kati Outinen — the female lead of Kaurismäki’s terrific 2002 art-house hit “The Man Without a Past” — as a trodden-upon lass who finally has enough of her vile parents and her even more vile boy-enemy (you can’t call him a friend). Ned Flanders-mustached Matti Pellonpää, who appears un-credited as the cruel seducer, also plays major roles in the less melodramatic, less reliably entertaining, but also very deftly made, films that round out the set: 1986’s “Shadows in Paradise,” a romantic comedy of sorts, and 1988’s “Ariel,” an out of sorts heist picture.
“Match Factory Girl” aside, this is the kind of material that will test the patience of viewers who don’t love such neorealist tropes as watching characters make tea for 15 seconds of real time. On the other hand, if kitchen sink realism and downbeat, ultra-subtle humor is your thing, they all may be your cup of tea. An ecological note: Given that all three features combined run just over 3.5 hours (the longest is an epic 76 minutes) and there are zero extras, someone should ask Criterion why was it necessary to package this brief trilogy on three separate discs.