Compartment No 6

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Compartment No.6
"The everyday feel is acute – you can virtually smell the pickle jar vinegar and raw spirit and imagine a slight stickiness on the seats as Jani-Petteri Passi’s camera captures the scene with a looseness that rocks along with the rhythm of the train." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

We’ve all taken one of those journeys on public transport where you end up sharing a space with someone you’d rather not, so it’s easy to sympathise with Finnish student Laura (Seidi Haarla) when she finds herself in a sleeper car bound from Moscow Murmansk in the far north of Russia with lairy Russian miner Lhoja (Yuriy Borisov). The train is packed, the guard is not about to be bribed into giving her a better berth and Laura is also feeling emotionally fragile after her older professor girlfriend (Dinara Drukarova) cried off from the trip at the last minute. Lhoja, meanwhile, seems to be occupying the space of at least three, spreading out his booze and food, while obnoxiously quizzing her about her plans.

Explaining that she’s heading to Murmansk to see its famous rock-carved petroglyphs rather than to pick up sex work, her suggestion that “It’s easier to understand the present when we understand the past” - something she is parroting from a previous conversation - is met with blankness from her compartment-mate. Director Juho Kuosmanen makes us feel as trapped as Laura, initially, Lhoja’s lack of awareness of personal space almost dangerous, although soon we’ll see he’s not quite as cocky as his exterior might suggest. It will come as little surprise that, in a mirror to the train, we are about to go on a journey with this pair that will go beyond the physical tracks.

Kuosmanen, whose film is freely adapted by him along with TV writing partners Andris Feldmanis and Livia Ullman, has a lightness of touch that helps spontaneous moments feel real – a knack that also came to the fore in his previous film The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Mäki. While it may seem slightly counterintuitive that Laura would get in a car with Lhoja at one of the train’s longer stops – a decision that marks a shift in their relationship – Kuosmanen has paid enough attention to the cut adrift air of Laura beforehand to make it see plausible that she might do something like this on a whim, just to get away from her own thoughts for a bit. Ideas of not judging a book by its cover are underlined when a Finnish tourist briefly enters the scene and proves to also be not quite what Laura first expects, although this is a film of growing understandings rather than huge revelations.

The everyday feel is acute – you can virtually smell the pickle jar vinegar and raw spirit and imagine a slight stickiness on the seats as Jani-Petteri Passi’s camera captures the scene with a looseness that rocks along with the rhythm of the train. There is nothing obviously ‘deep’ about the pair’s conversation. It has that free-ranging vibe that chats on trains can sometimes have, drifting close to the personal, perhaps, but also leaping off at tangents caused by the fact that you don’t know the other person – and with its 90s setting, it’s also a reminder of how easy it was, before the ubiquity of mobile phones, to become disconnected from others. But its casualness is exactly its appeal, taking it away from any number of more theatrically structured scenes on trains (the ones in Living, for example, spring to mind) so that we really could be eavesdropping on a genuine not-so-brief encounter.

Reviewed on: 17 Mar 2022
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A young Finnish woman escapes an enigmatic love affair in Moscow by boarding a train to the arctic port of Murmansk, but is forced to share the long ride and a tiny sleeping car with a Russian miner.

Director: Juho Kuosmanen

Writer: Andris Feldmanis, Juho Kuosmanen and Livia Ulman, based on the book by Rosa Liksom

Starring: Yuriy Borisov, Dinara Drukarova, Seidi Haarla, Vladimir Lysenko, Dmitriy Belenikhin

Year: 2021

Runtime: 107 minutes

Country: Finland, Estonia, Germany, Russia


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