Compartment No 6: a movie review by Alex First

July 11, 2022 by Alex First
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We’re in Moscow in 1996.

Laura (Seide Haarla) is a Finnish archaeology student in her 30s staying with Irina (Dinara Drukarova) in a beautiful flat.

The pair is also lovers.

Irina has forged a good life, full of friends, parties, laughter and intelligent conversation.

She has convinced Laura to go and see 10,000-year-old rock paintings in the far north – the Arctic.

The intention is for the two to travel together, but work holds Irina back, so Laura decides to go it alone.

That means a long train trip, with plenty of stops along the way.

Laura has booked a second-class compartment and her “bunk mate” on her journey to Murmansk is Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov), a man almost a decade younger.

He immediately makes a bad impression and before long seems like a pig of a man – uncouth and drunk.

Laura does all she can to put him behind her. She hangs about outside the compartment. She tries to switch carriages. She leaves the train, not intending to return, at one of the stops.

She calls Irina, but can’t bring herself to explain her situation and, in any event, doesn’t receive the reception she wants from Irina.

In other words, she is stuck.

So it is that the relationship between the rough and ready mine worker and the more cultured student evolves.

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In Compartment No. 6, it is the journey that counts and not the destination.

It is a slow-burn film that works its way into your psyche.

Based upon a novel by Finnish writer Rosa Liksom, it has a strong ring of truth about it, quirky that it is.

The script by Livia Ulman and Andris Feldmanis, and direction from Juho Kuosmanen is solid throughout.

It is a story about discovery … about not judging a book by its cover.

Laura and Ljoha both grow through their shared experience.

Ljoha seems like “Trouble”, with a capital “T”, but after her initial discomfort and disdain, Laura is drawn to his “bad boy” persona and vulnerability.

There are undoubtedly demons in his closet.

Apart from the compelling writing and the “breathing room” the director injects into the piece, it is the naturalistic performances that distinguish Compartment No 6.

In that, my praise extends beyond Haarla and Borisov – one empathetic and the other hard-nosed – who are very convincing.

Drukarova is fun-loving, passionate and flighty as Irina.

Yuliya Aug is appropriately humourless as the “by the book” ticket conductor.

Lidia Kostina is engaging company as Ljoha’s foster mother.

In the end, what this translates to is a melancholic drama with romantic elements that bites.

An independent movie for selective tastes, Juho Kuosmanen was both the winner of the Grand Prix and Ecumenical Jury prizes for Compartment No. 6 at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

Compartment No. 6 (MA) – 107 minutes

It scores an 8 out of 10.

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