“Compartment No. 6”, which was selected as the Finnish submission for Best International Film Oscar in last year, is a modest but intimate character drama between two accidental travel companions. They are quite different from each other in many aspects, but, of course, they become a little closer to each other as spending time together in a train compartment, and the result is alternatively funny and poignant as they show more of themselves to each other along the story.
The opening part of the film introduces us to Laura (Seidi Haarla), a Finnish lass who came to Moscow for her academic study. Although the movie does not specify its period background to us directly, it seems to be around the 1990s considering Laura’s video camera, and the opening scene shows us how a bunch of Russian intellectuals casually enjoy themselves around Laura at a little party held at the residence of Laura’s Russian lover.
Laura and her lover, who is incidentally a college professor, are supposed to go to Murmansk by train for studying the Kanozero Petroglyphs, but, unfortunately, her lover cannot go due to some unspecified matter, so Laura has no choice but to get on the train alone on the next day. Because she speaks Russian fairly well, she does not have much of language barrier problem, but she often cannot help but feel isolated, and she feels all the lonelier as sensing the growing distance between her and her lover.
Meanwhile, she has to be with some young Russian dude in their train compartment during next several days, and their first encounter is not so pleasant to say the least. When she meets him for the first time, this young man is apparently quite drunk, and he talks too much in addition to being very rude to her. Annoyed a lot by this, Laura naturally looks for any other place to occupy in the train, but, alas, the train seems to be full, and a stern female train conductor is not willing to help her – even when she offers a bit of bribe.
Because of her unpleasant fellow passenger, Laura considers giving up her trip to Murmansk when the train stops by St. Petersburg, but she eventually changes her mind and then goes back to her train compartment, and that Russian lad, who is sober now, shows a little more consideration than expected despite being rather sullen and gruff. When the train is going to stop at one city for one night, he suggests that they should visit the residence of some old acquaintance of his, and, though she is not particularly interested at first, Laura joins him when they come across each other later.
What follows next is a little warm and humorous moment between them and one old lady who kindly lets them stay at her residence for one night. As she and they drink together, the old lady talks for a while about how she has had a good life as being true to herself, and she also indirectly encourages the certain feelings developed between Laura and the Russian lad.
The Russian lad’s growing feelings toward Laura become more evident when Laura comes across a fellow Finnish passenger not long after they are back on their train on the next day. While she is pleased to feel less isolated than before, he cannot help but become petty and grouchy – especially when he feels the language barrier between him and the two people in front of him.
While it eventually rolls its two main characters toward a certain point where they come to get closer to each other than before, the screenplay by director Juho Kuosmanen and his co-writers Andris Feldmanis and Livia Ulman, which is adapted from the novel of the same name by Rosa Liksom, takes its time in developing their mutual feeling along their journey. When they eventually arrive at Murmansk later in the story, the movie patiently builds up its narrative momentum as usual, and then there come several unexpected moments including the one where Laura becomes more active in approaching closer to her accidental traveling companion.
Like any similar films about two different figures getting close to each other via their journey, the movie depends a lot on the chemistry between its two lead performers, and it is engaging to observe how their characters’ relationship is dynamically changed along the story. Although the movie does not tell that much about its two lead characters’ respective backgrounds, Seidi Haarla and Yuri Borisov fills their roles with enough life and personality in addition to effectively complementing each other throughout the film, and their solid duo acting is one of the main reasons why the last scene of the film works with considerable emotional impression. While they are still total strangers to each other even at the end of the story, Laura and her accidental traveling companion get to know each other much more than expected, and you may wonder whether they will meet again just like that young couple of Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” (1995).
On the whole, “Compartment No. 6”, which shared the Grand Prix award with Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero” (2021) when it was shown at the Cannes Film Festival early in last year, is another good film from Kuosmanen, who previously drew my attention with “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki” (2016). It is surely quite familiar, but the movie handles its story and characters with lots of wit, mood, and sensitivity, and that is more than enough for recommendation in my trivial opinion.
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