Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Juho Kuosmanen
Stars: Seide Haarla, Yuriy Borisov, Dinara Drukarova, Yuliya Aug.
The slow-moving drama Compartment No 6 is the third feature from Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen (The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Maki, etc), who has won several awards at the Cannes Film Festival, including the Ecumenical Prize for this film. The film is loosely based on the novel written by Finnish writer Rosa Liksom, and has been adapted for the screen by Kuosmanen, Andris Feldmanis and Livia Ulman. The film has something of the droll sensibility of fellow Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki.
Moscow in the mid 90s. Laura (Seide Haarla) is a Finnish student studying and living in Russia. She shares an apartment with her lover Irina (Dinara Drukarova), a lecturer. On the advice of Irina, Laura makes plans to head off to Murmansk to view the Kenozero petroglyphs – 10000-year-old rock paintings in the Arctic Circle.
When Irina suddenly is unable to travel due to “work commitments”, Laura finds herself travelling alone. She has booked a second-class sleeping compartment on a train, which she is forced to share with Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov), a crude, drunken and obnoxious Russian miner who is on his way to Murmansk looking for work. He initially makes a bad impression on Laura, and she does her utmost to avoid him by wandering the hallways and getting off the train at every stop. But as the long journey continues this odd couple slowly break down their barriers and discover some common ground, and a tentative friendship develops.
With plenty of tension between the pair, this is something of a claustrophobic drama. But even when the train reaches Murmansk and Laura heads out into the bleak, snow covered environment, the film still seems to exert something of a claustrophobic hold as there is little escape from the harsh conditions. The setting itself lends authenticity to the proceedings. Much of the film itself was shot on board trains, with the cramped sleeping compartments and narrow passageways lending further authenticity to the material. The hand-held camera work from regular collaborator Jani-Petteri Passi further enhances the mood.
This is essentially a two hander, and Kuosmanen draws naturalistic performances from his two leads. Borisov does well in conveying the vulnerability and uncertainty beneath his character’s brash exterior. There are a couple of supporting players who contribute strong performances, but the standout is Yuliya Aug who plays the train’s officious and by the book conductor and who has some fine moments despite her limited screen time.
This Finnish-Russian co-production is a bittersweet Arctic road movie, albeit set on a train, and it is a journey in which the two main characters, who seem to have little in common, form a connection. This is largely a two-hander that is ultimately about communication and connection. It seems like something of a cross between Before Sunrise and Brief Encounter. The shifting dynamic between the two characters is also meant to represent the uncertainty of Russia in the late 90s as the country was experiencing a massive political and social change.
Compartment No 6 has been well received on the festival circuit and this slow-moving character study will appeal to lovers of art house cinema.