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Compartment No 6 - strangers on a Russian train sweetly connect | reviews, news & interviews

Compartment No. 6 - strangers on a Russian train sweetly connect

Compartment No. 6 - strangers on a Russian train sweetly connect

Long-distance travel makes hearts grow fonder

Cold as ice: Laura (Seidi Haarla) and Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov) suffer in silence (c) 2021 Sami Kuokkanen Aamu Film Company

Juho Kuosmanen’s Cannes Grand Prix-winner observes two strangers on a train, taking the arduous journey from Moscow to Arctic Murmansk in 1998. Laura (Seidi Haarla) is a Finnish student hoping to study ancient rock paintings, Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov) a skinhead Russian miner.

Their first encounter is disastrously un-cute, as he leeringly suggests she’s heading north to sell herself, pawing her lap for emphasis. But this idiosyncratically romantic film testifies that most people have something in common, if forced together long enough to find out.

Laura thought she’d be sharing her compartment with her professor lover, Irina (Dinana Drukarova), a relationship which unravels as the train's distance grows. A Moscow prologue in the apartments of Irina’s circle shows conversations like tests, which Laura gauchely aches to pass. Like the rock paintings she goes in search of, imagining herself an archaeologist, Laura is trying to find a self that suits. Ljoha, Kuosmanen believes, is an unlikely, truer mirror to her soul, possessing “the same unspoken” feelings and childhood yearnings beneath his thuggish veneer.

Ljoha's foster mother (Lidia Kostina) and Laura (Seidi Haarla) in Compartment No 6The carriage becomes a fetid nest for Ljoha, strewn with drinks and food, while Laura seeks refuge in the restaurant car. But in a film set on the post-Soviet, pre-Putin cusp, the commissar-like female conductor (Julia Aug) acts as inadvertent match-maker, forcing their cohabiting to continue. Borisov’s sharp features suits Ljoha’s acute instincts, as Haarla, softer and seeming bigger, finds Laura’s headstrong assertiveness and uncertain, wandering thoughts.

Kuosmanen and cinematographer J-P Passi don’t make the carriage claustrophobic. Instead it’s golden glow is like a fire to huddle round in the Arctic night, an intimate place to draw closer, while the moving train’s mesmeric ambience entices reveries and revelations. Overnight stops in deep Russian outposts which materialise then vanish back into the snow-white air also offer adventures, Laura gradually letting herself off the leash of her Moscow pretensions, as the possibilities of the moment grow. When Ljoha hotwires a car to visit his eccentrically witty foster mother (Lidia Kostina, pictured above with Haarla), the hurt and need his misanthropy shields meanwhile becomes apparent.

Laura (Seidi Haarla) and Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov) in Compartment No 6When a drippily handsome, guitar-toting young Finn gets on, it should be a relief for Laura. Even before troubadour strums resolve into Wet Wet Wet’s “Love Is All Around”, though, Ljoha’s jealous contempt seems earned. “There must be a factory round here that makes guys like him. Right?” Mr Sensitive conspiratorially asks. Laura already knows better, sketching Ljoha as a sweetly sleeping, handsome boy, seeing him like the mother he lacks. And in an unexpected last act in Murmansk – a lovely epilogue after the Moscow prelude – it's Ljoha who madly insists on taking her to see those rock paintings, indomitably ignoring “lazy bastards” to brave impenetrable roads and storm-tossed seas, as they become Arctic adventurers. Laura’s lesbian relationship is a useful barrier to a sexual romance. Instead they find a playful fraternity, with hugging and kissing another way to accept each other in a wearing world. After the early boorishness and loneliness, this is such a kind film.

There’s an added poignancy to the Russia Kuosmanen shows, released now: its hospitality and maverick, impetuous contempt for the impossible; its vastness and brutal, beautiful landscapes. It’s a reminder of the nation that Putin is destroying along with Ukraine, a great country made a pariah by his viciousness, like Nazi Germany. Spending cinematic time in this Russia long before the war reminds you of the humanity in these “others”, too.

There’s an added poignancy to the Russia Kuosmanen shows, released now

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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