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'Compartment No. 6' Review: A moving drama about love and loneliness

'Compartment No. 6' - Juho Kuosmanen

Finnish filmmaker Juho Kuosmanen is back with another fantastic project, having previously directed masterful works such as The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki. Titled Compartment No. 6, the film follows the strange journey of a Finnish student who decides to travel to Murmansk in order to study the enigmatic Kanozero Petroglyphs that were discovered in 1997.

Instead of fixating on the undeciphered mystery of the rock drawings, Kuosmanen decides to focus on the more complex mysteries of human nature. Seidi Haarla is wonderful as Laura, the young student who has started an affair with her professor Irina. Despite their physical connection, Laura realises that there is something missing which is why the journey to Murmansk becomes an intensely personal one.

The film starts out by contextualising the existence of Laura within the intellectual circles of Moscow. Surrounded by the incessant, onanistic and often meaningless droning of academics in parties, Compartment No. 6 adeptly translates Laura’s struggles with imposter syndrome by making it an omnipresent atmospheric quality of the film’s beginning.

Laura’s uncertainty about her present as well as her future is perfectly complemented by the use of an unstable camera which always manages to evoke a subtle sense of movement, both physical and psychological. This movement is a central part of Compartment No. 6 since the entire narrative is in transit, just like the characters on the screen.

Over the course of her journey, she develops an unlikely friendship with her co-passenger Lyokha (played by Yuri Borisov) – a boorish Russian nationalist who indulges in extreme misogyny after abusing alcohol. Despite their differences, they begin to understand each other as well as the fundamental isolation that haunts them.

“It was very well received in Russia,” Kuosmanen said in an interview with The Guardian, describing the reception in Russia. “They were amazed that a foreign film-maker could so sympathetically represent Russia and Russians. Because Russians keep getting told by paranoid nationalists about Russophobia and that all foreigners are a threat.”

Jani-Petteri Passi’s cinematography is sublime, treating the audience to vivid stylisations of daytime and night. Working within the bleak aesthetic frameworks of contemporary Russian cinema, Compartment No. 6 beautifully alternates between these periods of time while also managing to blur the transitions in the minds of the audience.

According to Kuosmanen, Compartment No. 6 is set in the spring of 1998 – very close to the discovery of the Kanozero Petroglyphs. However, the rock drawings are a classic Macguffin; they fail to provide any revelatory truths about humanity or human existence unlike the real human drama between Laura and Lyokha that is bursting with meaning.

Inspired by Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise as well as Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, Kuosmanen set out to capture our loneliness. “You feel so happy for them, but at the same time you really hope they don’t have sex,” he added. Compartment No. 6 ended up winning the Grand Prix at last year’s edition of Cannes, paving the way for future gems by Kuosmanen.

Watch the trailer for Compartment No. 6 below.