One of Kaurismäki's early films, Shadows in Paradise centres on the burgeoning love affair between a bin man, Nikander, and a supermarket checkout girl, Ilona. The romantic leads are played by Matti Pellonpää and Kati Outinen, Kaurismäki's favorite actors whom he used consistently since, and are both excellent. The film displays many of the qualities and themes that Kaurismäki has developed throughout his career - a love affair characterised both by tenderness and a shy awkwardness and formality; characters in poverty or otherwise on the edges of society, minimalistic and stylised dialogue and an unmistakable visual aesthetic. This isn't a masterpiece, but is nevertheless impressive for such an early work and it is interesting to see the strength with which Kaurismäki had found his unique voice so early in his career.
The Match Factory Girl the gem of this collection, and undoubtedly one of Kaurismäki's best works. The film is minimalist (even for Kaurismäki!), with very little dialogue (the first line comes 12 minutes into the film) and a sparse but profoundly compelling plot that unfolds at an impeccable pace. On screen for nearly every minute of the film, Kati Outinen holds the piece together as Iris, the Match Factory Girl of the title, whose downtrodden, poverty-ridden existence takes a turn for the worse when a man she meets, and sleeps with, makes it very clear to her that she was a one night stand - and she then discovers that she's pregnant. Her response to her situation is as unexpected as it is thrilling. Outinen won the Best Actress award at Cannes in 2002 for her role in The Man Without a Past, but I really think her performance in this film is even better - she's simply mesmerising.
Ariel is the weaker film of the three. It has strong thematic similarities to Kaurismäki's 2002 masterpiece THe Man Without a Past in that it follows a man who suffers a series of misfortunes that seem designed to crush his spirit and his hope. Ariel has less gravity than the 2002 film and is also somewhat darker. This is an interesting film, especially when viewed in conjunction with The Man Without a Past but really not Kaurismäki at his best.