I was curious to see 'Compartment no 6', the film by Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen, which became one of the most awarded movies on the festival circuit during this special year which is 2021. The film is a 'road movie' or if you wish a 'railroad movie' , whose story takes place most of the time in a train that runs through the Russian steppe from Moscow to Murmansk, in the far north, beyond the Arctic Circle. Two young people, a Finn woman and a Russian man, who have nothing in common except enough reasons not to be able to tolerate each other are forced to spend the three days and two nights of the trip together. The formula seems pretty rusty, especially as what almost everything viewers expect after the first ten minutes of watching the film happens, and yet, beyond the not very original story, the film manages to catch the attention through sincerity and the natural and empathetic way in which the characters and the reality around them are treated.
The film director and the lead heroine are Finnish, but the story takes place in Russia, sometime in the late '90s. Laura (Seidi Haarla), a student in Moscow, is planning a trip to Murmansk, in the far north of Russia, together with Irina, her Russian girlfriend. The friend gives up at the last moment and from what will follow we understand that the relationship was almost over from her point of view. Laura takes the trip alone, in a sleeping cars train, the purpose of the trip being to see some petroglyphs 10 thousand years old, which arouse her interest as a future archaeologist. In the train she is assigned to the same compartment with a young Russian man named Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov), a drunk and rude person. She tries to find a place in another compartment, but this proves to be impossible. The trip promises to become a nightmare, the communication between the two being hampered by differences in language (Laura speaks only elementary Russian), culture, and alcohol fumes. From here, however, things will evolve.
The interaction between the two works wonderfully, and even if the situations are not that original - we have already seen similar ones in too many romantic comedies - the subtlety of the script writing, the talent and the chemistry between the two actors manage to make the relationship credible and human, leaving room for multiple subtexts and interpretations. The romantic element appears late, and until then the communication between the two young people is based neither on language (which is a tool of misunderstanding rather than understanding) nor on sexual attraction. Cultural differences are subtly described, juggling around stereotypes. We can of course ask ourselves how true to realities is the image of Russia in the first decade after communism that is presented to us on screen. I know too little about Finnish cinema, except for a few films by Aki Kaurismaki, so I'm not sure if my assessment is correct, but it seemed to me that compared to what I saw, the focus is less on the comic and sarcastic dimensions and more on the human connection and communication between the heroes. In other words, 'Compartment no 6' looks more like a Russian film about a young Finnish woman directed by a Finn than like a Finnish film. Anyway and whatever shelf we lay it, it is a simple and good film, whose viewing has chances to please many spectators. The actors do an excellent job, and the camera work makes watching the scenes on the train, in Russian homes, or from the frozen steppe an immersive experience. The decisions of the juries of festivals such as Cannes or Jerusalem, I believe, will in this case be validated by the reception of the public.