Review: COMPARTMENT NO. 6, Little Human Connections
Yuriy Borisov, Seidi Haarla and Yuliya Aug star in a romantic drama from Finland, directed by Juho Kuosmanen.
A Finnish student (Seidi Haarla) is traveling alone from Moscow to see the 10,000 year old petroglyphs in the Arctic north in Russia, after her Russian professor/lover, Irina, backs out of the trip. Her last night in Moscow gives us an impression that Irina, the worldly older woman, had tightly wrapped our shy and awkward heroine around her fingers.
The next day, she is taking a crowded Russian railroad all the way to Murmansk, a small town near the Finnish border, alone. Her bunkmate happens to be Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov), a brusk, blue collar worker heading to the same destination for work in the mines.
It's a big change for our unnamed Heroine, after hanging out in Irina's intellectual circle of friends in her fabulous flat full of antiques, books, music, meaningful conversations and laughter. She has to quell the sexual advances and lewd jokes from Ljoha. She contemplates quitting the trip and going back to the Bourgie bossoms of Irina, but the thought of appearing weak in front of her mentor/lover is too much to bear.
Even though they are very different, this little Russian man’s presence slowly warms up to our heroine. A sort of traveling companion camaraderie develops in an impossibly small train compartment. The train stops overnight in a small town on the way to Murmansk, and Ljoha invites her to his babushka (grandma? Aunt?)'s house. She experiences unexpected companionship and human warmth, sharing strong drinks and listening to the old woman's stories. They almost miss the train as they oversleep the next morning.
When our heroine helps out a fellow Finnish traveler who doesn't speak the language, by inviting him to their shared compartment 6, Ljoha is obviously unhappy and jealous. The hipster traveler with a guitar is everything Ljoha is not. She asks (in Finnish) the traveler if he ever feels lonely, and he says that everyone's alone.
Compartment No.6 has everything I love about cinema: wanderlust, human connection, loneliness, trains, cold weather. Director Juho Kuosmanen, working from a novel by Rosa Liksom, finds a delicate balance in chiseling out beautiful moments of human connections without unnecessary backstories or dramatics. It's a little romance without all the fuss and stylings, but only warmth and silent understanding.
As the saying goes, it's the journey, not the destination. Our heroine gets stuck in the small town in a foreign land without any guide. It's winter and there is no one to take her to see the petroglyphs. She might have overestimated her relationship with Irina since she is not that helpful with her conundrum. She is lonely and alone.
It's only Ljoha who is crazy enough to arrange the snowy, supposedly dangerous trip without any hesitation. They climb on the remnants of a wrecked ship in the blizzard after seeing not very impressive 10,000 year old scrawls on the rocks. He makes a corny joke about the Titanic. "Why? Are we about to die?" "No, Rose survives." "Well, she dies later," she drolly corrects him.
Yes, everyone is alone and everyone dies. But what matters is the little moments of human connections, and feeling the warmth of other human beings along the way. Compartment No. 6 captures them beautifully. Haarla and Borisov's guileless performances are also aces. This is the first great film I've seen this new year.
The films opens in select movie theaters today in New York and Los Angeles via Sony Pictures Classics, with a national roll-out to follow in the coming weeks.
Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions on everything cinema and beyond can be found at www.dustinchang.com