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4th April 2022

MANIFF 2022: Compartment no. 6

MANIFF 2022: In this Cannes-winning film, a young woman travelling to subpolar Russia forms an unlikely connection with her compartment mate
MANIFF 2022: Compartment no. 6
Photo: Courtesy of MANIFF.

Compartment no. 6, directed by Juho Kuosmanen from Finland, is unmistakably a Russian film. The  Cannes-winning film, based on the 2011 novel of the same name and constructed around the traditional idea of two strangers meeting on a train, gives a window into Eastern European society, attempting to comprehend it from a Western viewpoint.

Laura (Seidi Haarla) is a young Finnish lady who, owing to her Russian partner, finds herself in the social circle of Moscow’s intellectual aristocracy. They both want to travel to the subpolar city of Murmansk to see and study petroglyphs, which are rock engravings that date back thousands of years. However, in a last-minute change, Laura undertakes the journey on her own.

Long-distance trains in Russia represent the core of the country’s culture, with individuals travelling for days across the country’s sparsely inhabited areas, always with a vodka bottle in hand. Laura is seated next to Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov), a young Russian man on his way to work in the Murmansk mines. Forced to spend several long days and nights with the man who seems to come from another world, the two eventually grow to understand each other and form a natural bond.

Compartment no. 6 captures the microcosm of the train, the claustrophobic yet nevertheless somehow warm feeling of being stuck in a small space for a long period of time. The way Laura learns to understand her companion, his values, and his way of life, is something she clearly needs in order to find her own place in the world. What was intended to be a romantic getaway with her partner ultimately becomes a journey into herself.

Learning about Ljoha appears to benefit Laura regardless of whether their relationship has a platonic or romantic undertone. Kuosmanen is not trying to distinguish between a love story or a buddy film, undertaking the subject of the main character’s sexual orientation with grace and subtlety rarely seen in cinema.

Although it may be tempting to compare Compartment no. 6 to the greatest ‘train romances’ of cinema, this Finnish gem stands apart, both in its humanistic approach to establishing the connection between its characters and in the formal execution juxtaposing the warmth of the train’s compartment and the coldness of Russian wastelands.

There’s none of the romanticised pretentiousness of Before Sunrise or the emotional gravity of Brief Encounter; only tons of cigarettes, litres of vodka, and a yearning for a true human connection to warm up cold, lonely hearts. The subtlety pervades the screen throughout the voyage, offering an honest panorama of Eastern European ideals subtly and easily.


Michal Wasilewski

Michal Wasilewski

Managing Editor of Culture for The Mancunion.

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