Film & TV

Film Review: Compartment No. 6

A Finnish woman boards a train from Moscow to the arctic port of Murmansk. and is forced to share a tiny sleeping car with a Russian miner. By the end of the long journey, they will have changed each other.

A warm story in a cold climate, that works its way into your heart

Finnish writer Rosa Liksom won the Finlandia Prize in 2011 for her novel Compartment No. 6. This has now been brought to the screen by director Juho Kuosmanen.

Laura, a Finnish archaeology student, has been living in Moscow with her lover Irina. They have booked a trip to the Arctic city of Murmansk to see the Kanozero petroglyphs, but Irina can no longer go, Laura decides to take the trip on her own. She finds herself sharing a cramped railway sleeper compartment with a young Russian man Ljoha, travelling to Murmansk to work in the mines. Jammed together for the nearly two day trip, she is horrified by his smoking, drinking, and nearly constant eating, and at one stage even begs the train guard to find her accommodation elsewhere on the train. But gradually, as the train moves further north and into more icy climes, Laura’s own barriers melt and a friendship develops.

Compartment No. 6 captures the sights and sounds of a cramped 1990s Russian train perfectly, partly because many scenes were actually filmed on one. Kuosmanen embraces the cold, with scenes of fogged up car windows, and slushy snow. As a cinematic journey to the Arctic Circle, it is sheer perfection. Within this setting, Laura and Ljoha’s relationship develops. The two leads-Yuriy Borisov as Ljoha and Seidi Haarla as Laura-give authentic and vulnerable performances, which go beyond “on-screen chemistry” to something more like on-screen synergy. Although this is an ancient and venerable trope of two people who dislike each other at first sight coming to love/like each other, this movie delivers a much more grown-up version. Kuosmanen has directed with a gentle guiding hand, clearly giving these two outstanding actors the space in which to do what they do so well. A solid supporting ensemble delivers pretentious Muscovite intellectuals, dour train guards, and a cast of fantastic yet authentic, characters.

Kari Kankaanpää’s sensational production design gives the film the visual feel of a gritty documentary, as he did with his work on District 9. Cinematographer Jani-Petteri Passi, who did much of the camera-work on Chernobyl, has made the most of the extraordinary settings, serving up not just the usual ice and snow, but also the industrial grit and dirt of the habited Arctic.

Compartment No. 6 is full of both ice and warmth. Humorous, compassionate, and very real, this is a work that lingers long in the memory, and in the heart.

Compartment No. 6 opens on July 7th.

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