Compartment No. 6, 2021.
Directed by Juho Kuosmanen.
Starring Seidi Haarla, Yuriy Borisov, Dinara Drukarova, Dmitry Belenikhin, Polina Aug, and Yuliya Aug.
As a train weaves its way up to the arctic circle, two strangers share a journey that will change their perspective on life.
Aspiring archaeologist and Russian college student Laura (Seidi Haarla, adept at conveying the character’s loneliness and mixed state of emotions) is eager to travel from Moscow to the Arctic Circle and study petrographs (rock paintings). Sweetening the appeal for adventure is that her literature professor romantic partner Irina (Dinara Drukarova) is set to tag along. At least until she drops out at the last minute to focus on some work. From the beginning of Compartment No. 6, it’s evident that one side of this relationship is reciprocating more than the other. Still, Laura is determined not to let that drown out her thirst for experiencing life. Going alone will probably be a bummer, but she sticks to the journey, although now traveling inside a rinky-dink train that gives off an unflattering mood.
Unable to swap rooms, Laura finds herself assigned to the titular compartment no. 6. She is burdened with a drunkard whose first impression is to crack inappropriate jokes asking if she is traveling to sell her body. This belligerent man is Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov), simultaneously offputting yet unnervingly persistent in getting to know Laura. There comes a point where the train stops for the night, prompting Ljoha to repeatedly inquire into whether or not she would like a place to rest at a friend’s house he claims to be an older woman. Naturally, alarm bells and suspicion are blaring internally for Laura, sweeping viewers up in what is easily the most compelling aspect of Compartment No. 6. There’s an intuition that something horrific could probably happen, exceptionally transporting us into the shoes of Laura.
Based on the novel by Rosa Liksom (and adapted for the screen by Livia Ulman, Andris Feldmanis, and director Juho Kuosmanen with Ljuba Mulmenko overseeing the Russian dialogue for this Finnish production team), it also feels like a disservice to say where the story goes from there, as that uneasiness and feeling of uncertainty is easily one of the most substantial aspects. What can be said is that the eventual direction does feel lived-in with outstanding nuanced terms tackling themes of living life in the moment and through the past. There is also a subversive element on trust, which only complicates matters on who to let one’s guard down for.
Given the setting, it’s no shocker that Compartment No. 6 boasts frigid scenery (even when characters step outside to smoke cigarettes, their breath is visible from the bitter cold), but it also works in tandem with the distance that plays between the various character dynamics on hand. There’s nothing glamorous or tourist-friendly regarding the visuals, more so a thematic connection that consistently feels right, even during the climax when sunlight beautifully starts to find its way inside a moving car.
With that in mind, even at a relatively reasonable 107 minutes, Compartment No. 6 wears out its welcome once it’s crystallized as to what this story is actually going to be. It also doesn’t dive too deep into these characters and their past relationships, moving along glacially only held the above ice water by its stunningly realistic performances from its leading duo. If nothing else, the connection and chemistry are there, although it doesn’t sizzle nearly enough to thaw out the narrative flaws.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]
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