Compartment No 6 [Hytti nro 6]

Juho Kuosmanen
Release Year:
Length (mins):
Finland, Russia, Estonia, Germany
Screening Date:
  • 7 Feb 2023
  • Categories:
    Drama, Romance

    A (rail) road movie about a young Finnish woman who travels across Russia by train sharing a compartment with a Russian miner. Cannes Grand Prix winner 2021.

    What's this?
    F-Rated Bronze

    Film Notes

    Compartment No. 6’ Review: An Offbeat Trainbound Love Story That Transports You Across Russia and Back in Time

    A Finnish student meets a Russian miner on a long train journey across rural Russia. Sparks do not fly, but love, of a kind, happens anyway.

    For anyone who’s ever got drunk on bad schnapps with a stranger, for anyone who’s ever been so alone in a nowhere-town that they’ve spoken to a dial tone just to look like they had something to do, for anyone who’s ever been asked how to say “I love you” in their language and has patiently sounded out the words for “Fuck you” … Juho Kuosmanen’s deeply delightful Cannes competition title “Compartment No. 6” plays less like a film than an incredibly detailed, richly textured memory. And for all the people who’ve never done any of those things, after this, you will have.

    A sorta-love story with exactly one kiss meets a kinda-road movie where the road is a railway track. But while the strangers-on-a-train-get-to-know-each-other subgenre has its touchpoint in Richard Linklater’s beloved romance “Before Sunrise,” “Compartment No. 6” rattles to the rhythms of much realer life. It’s the experience that many of us actually had when “Before Sunrise” was what we hoped for, a journey composed less of long deep conversations with attractive Interrailers and more of unwashed hair and the awkwardness of bulky backpacks in narrow corridors. And of the dawning realization that hey-ho, no matter where you go, there you are. Jesse and Celine would never.

    Between Moscow and Murmansk, Laura (Seidi Haarla), a Finnish archaeology student at the dwindling end of a love affair with worldly Muscovite Irina (Dinara Drukarova), must share her second-class bunk compartment with tough-looking Russian guy Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov, who also appears in Kirill Serebrennikov’s Competition film “Petrov’s Flu”). First impressions aren’t great: Ljoha, taut and glowering as an energy coil, scatters sparks from his cigarette across the cluttered table and alternates swigs of generic vodka with bites of a sausage the color of a blocked artery. Laura, on a quixotic mission to see some rare petroglyphs (rock paintings) in the Murmansk region, spends much of the first leg of her journey trying unsuccessfully to get away from him. But that changes during one overnight stopover after which, and not because of any particular revelation, they wake up as friends.

    Kuosmanen earned his promotion to the Cannes 2021 competition lineup by winning the 2016 Un Certain Regard top prize for “The Happiest Day In the Life of Olli Maki.” The unusually lovable sporting biopic delivered both a knockout punch and a butterfly kiss to the well-worn conventions of the boxing drama and floored everyone with its immaculately immersive re-creation of time and place. Here, Kuosmanen, and his genius “Olli Maki” production design collaborator Kari Kankaanpää pull off the same feat, re-creating the retro-by-western-standards milieu of late-’90s Russia so completely that at times you might swear you can smell the images, and feel the cold drafts rattle in through the decrepit carriage doors. It feels less like a re-creation and more like cinematographer J-P Passi was sent back through a wormhole to this precise moment, shooting the past with the technologies of today, and in turn delivering a masterclass in unobtrusive handheld camerawork that quietly cares for its characters without ever glamorizing them.

    To do so would do a disservice to the two actors who are each so extraordinary at portraying ordinary. As Ljoha, Borisov buries his soulfulness under a restless, constant physicality — he even seems to sleep tensely. And Haarla, the protagonist, is even more subtle, magnificent in her lank-haired, sensible-sweatered normalcy, her almost palpable insecurity constantly in flux with her quiet self-worth. Separately — for they are lonely individuals — the actors are wonderful in conveying the smallest of changes in chemistry between the characters, and together, there is not a moment of their relationship that you do not believe. Love is supposed to blossom, but theirs is nothing as fragile as a flower; it’s a trainyard weed, scrubby and unlikely, but hardier than the pretty red roses of other people’s affections.

    In loosely adapting Rosa Liksom’s novel of the same name, Kuosmanen changed the era from the end of Soviet Russia to a decade later (given away more by a slightly incongruous reference to “Titanic” than by the film’s fab soundtrack, in which Desireless’ 1986 euro-banger “Voyage Voyage” becomes the perfect recurring refrain.) But the sense of period is less about a particular year than a particular phase, and with this shift Kuosmanen has cleverly substituted one prelapsarian moment in time for another. With its crystal clear reclamation of that last gasp of analogue — before the digital revolution put a cellphone in every pocket and as a species we lost the ability to ever be truly alone — the humdrum and heartswelling “Compartment No. 6” evokes a powerful nostalgia for a type of loneliness we don’t really have any more, and for the type of love that was its cure.

    Jessica Kiang, Variety, 10th July 2021.

    Beguiling romance Compartment No. 6 is Russia’s answer to Before Sunrise.

    Train journeys can be magical, and a wonderful setting for a romance. It’s not unexpected to find two complete strangers sharing a compartment become companions during a long journey, which is precisely what happens in Compartment No. 6.

    Based on a novel, this train journey is set in Russia, seemingly in the late nineties. Laura (Seidi Haarla), a Finnish grad student in Moscow, has planned a trip to a remote city in the Arctic Circle to see some petroglyphs. This idea is championed by her Russian lover Irina, but we quickly get the sense there is growing distance between them. As Laura contemplates her journey in silence, Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov) bursts into the compartment and into Laura’s space. However, a slow friendship develops between the two, as they start to begrudgingly see each other beyond first impressions.

    When it seems like Laura’s visit to see the petroglyphs is in jeopardy, Ljoha comes to the rescue – setting us up for a glorious romp in inclement weather. Russia’s stark landscape makes for breathtaking and sometimes comical scenes. This is a trip well worth taking.

    APARITA BHANDARI, Toronto Globe and Mail, 9th Feb 2022.

    What you thought about Compartment No 6 [Hytti nro 6]

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    20 (38%) 28 (53%) 4 (8%) 1 (2%) 0 (0%)
    Total Number of Responses: 53
    Film Score (0-5): 4.26

    Collated Response Comments

    124 members and guests attended this screening. We received 53 responses giving a film score of 4.26. A response rate of 43%.

    Thank you for taking the time to deliver some thoughtful and in some instances pithy observations. It is much appreciated.

    All of your comments are shown below.

    “In my mind it was good, better than average but not very good. A little dour and definitely not one to provide a scenic view of Russia. Interesting depiction of the development of a most unlikely relationship”.

    “Excellent acting, direction and settings. Must have been hell to film! But a number of loose ends left untied, leaving a slightly incomplete feeling... I suppose that's what life's like”.

    “Thanks for showing this; joy out of harshness, growing charms of a strange relationship against that bitter backdrop of Russian winters. Hand held camera works so well to draw us close visually and emotionally. Thought it hit a mood between losing something and finding something startlingly different. Liked the range of moods, the cold outside reflects the iciness in early relationship in the compartment. Is Laura safe with the drunk Ljoha? The transition for Laura grows with the visit in a stolen car to his grandmother and her wisdom. Enjoyed the contrast between the smugness of that cliquey friendship group in Moscow and the rawness of finding stone carvings. Warmth in the growing love between Ljoha and Laura in the sharp bleakness of Arctic circle Russia left me thinking "Where's this going", but maybe it didn't matter. Lose something, find something? Sounds okay to me”.

    ‘A warm and culturally inciteful film about falling in love across these "divides"’.

    “As much 'Trains, planes and automobiles' as it is the more obvious comparison; 'Before Sunrise' this has all the unromantic grit and grime that the latter lacks (not that I imagine that gritty realism was at the forefront of Linklater's ambitions). In the look and feel certainly, but crucially in the performances which are stunningly and affectingly transparent, the characters' evolution utterly believable and the ending is perfect, blunt, realistic and fitting if not the romantic finale Hollywood might have given us”.

    “What a roller coaster train journey! Grim crowded sleeper carriages with no escape. I felt Laura's unease. I admired her adventurous spirit which got her through and the wonderful Ljoha who against first impressions helped her achieve her goal”

    “I was expecting a bit more...just felt a bit slow and flat, and not a very convincing story arc. The title made me think of "Inside No.9" but those episodes pack in more in 29 minutes than this did in 2 hours!”.

    “Not the most accessible film but one that grew on me as it progressed. Would like to have seen more of the scenery on the long journey and wasn't sure if they actually got to see the petroglyphs, as we didn't sadly! Another film I wouldn't have chosen to watch but was glad I had seen. Thanks”.

    “Many different aspect to enjoy in this film where the loving nature of a Finnish woman thaws the brutishness of a Russian skinhead to find an unexpected meeting of souls”.

    “Lovely 'slow brew' of a movie. Beautifully drawn characters - especially Ljoha, who you couldn't help but love. The train, towns and landscape were characters in themselves”.

    “Bleak. Atmospheric. Terrifying. Fun”.

    “Slightly reminiscent of a Russian – Finnish ‘Before Sunrise’. Glad the ending wasn’t too saccharine – it wouldn’t have suited these two characters to have a tearful confession of love”.

    “I enjoyed the change of relationships but I don’t like those hand-held camera work with too many close ups. Quite good though”.

    “A good portrayal of how human relationships can develop. Very well filmed”.

    “Well paced – heightened tension/connecting – (unable to decipher last word)”.

    “Hated it at first, very claustrophobic…but ultimately sweet”.

    “Different – nice ending.”

    “Very well acted and true to train journeys in some countries but not a movie I would rely on”.

    “Very interesting from beginning to end”.

    “Great acting – good sense of place -no Oscars for scenery”.

    “An interesting film that was much more watchable than expected. Travelling alone can bring surprises! Liked the humour and stark scenery”.

    “Thank you for the choice of film. The best so far – wonderfully creative story, great filming. Film art and life at its best”.

    “I loved that! Reminded me of the type of film we would study for my film MA. Such simplistic beauty and so many motifs. I need to watch it again and then write the essay!”

    “Not sure the Murmansk Tourist Board will be happy with the coverage”.

    “The scenery, the script and the acting were superb”.

    “This film happened to ring a bell for me. Back in 1965 I was flown to Moscow for a big meeting and my late wife Dorothy went from the Hague to Moscow by train (3 days) and had some fascinating experiences!”

    “Great film and acting but I wont plan to do that trip myself!”

    “Didn’t know how this would end! Enjoyed it very much”.

    “A different film and a gentle delight”.

    “Good choice! Interesting and different”.

    “Beautifully filmed, lovely cameos of additional characters. Captures the dilemmas and adventures of youth”.

    “Foul language, homosexuality and talking with mouth full”.

    “Too slow and bleak for me”.


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