Now playing at Cinéma du Parc in Montreal, “Compartment no 6” is a movie definitely worth adding to your to-watch list.
This 107-minute dramatic movie was directed in Russian and in Finnish by the Finish director Juho Kuosmanen and released in 2021. It is a Cannes Grand Prix laureate based on Rosa Liksom’s eponymous novel and it narrates the story of Laura (Seidi Haarla) a Finnish exchange student interested in archeology who leaves Moscow and her lover Irina (Dinara Droukarova) and embarks on a train to Murmansk to study petroglyphs. This long journey soon becomes a memorable and life-changing experience for the protagonist as she befriends Ljoha (Youri Borissov), a Russian miner who shares her compartment.
Though the pacing of the movie can be very slow at times, in my opinion, the key element that makes “Compartment no 6” an emotional masterpiece is its spectacular cinematography. Because of the authenticity of its decorative elements, this film has a vintage atmosphere that directly immerses its viewers in the historical context of the time so that during the many stops they discover along with Laura different aspects of Russia.
While watching Compartment no 6, the viewer’s perception is directly shaped by Laura, a very sensitive character, and experiences. For example, when at the beginning of the movie during the party at Irina’s flat, our protagonist seems a little uncomfortable and out of place, yet the strategic use of sunny lighting and lively music for the scene shows how delighted Laura is and completely overshadows for the viewer these negative elements.
On the contrary, when she embarks on the train Laura clearly feels tense and alone and her first encounter with Ljoha upsets her further. Her emotions seem heightened by the stormy weather outside, the noise and crowdedness and the medium shots often used only reinforce this feeling of being trapped in a moving metallic box.
Fortunately, the story brightens up when Laura unexpectedly decides to follow Lloha during one of the train’s stops and pay a visit to an old woman. This bonding moment marks a new chapter in the film and the beginning of a great relationship between the two main characters. Once again technical elements like warm lighting and camera close-ups of characters laughing foster a sense of intimacy and make this moment dream-like. The scene ends on an empowering note when the old woman tells Laura the importance for women to “listen to their inner small animal” and encourages her to learn to trust herself. While all these cinematographic decisions are worth their praise, it is truly the actors’ performance and their chemistry on screen that make this scene and many to come so endearing.
Yet even though their relationship is overall confusing, I think that it is worth noting that “Compartment no 6” does not seem to present a romantic love story but rather a platonic one. Lloha is not a prince charming rescuing Laura from her love problems with Irina but rather a helpful and supportive friend brought by fate. Their story started as a cliché enemies-to-lovers but rather than fall in love, these two characters with completely opposite personalities realized that appearances can be sometimes misleading and developed a strange yet sincere bond that almost appears childish due to its simplicity.
In the end, watching “Compartment no 6” can be compared to the experience of riding a train. At times, days are intense and fast-paced while sometimes the time passes tiresomely slowly, yet as the traveler finally arrives at its destination he remembers with nostalgia and bittersweetness these short moments disconnected from reality in the company of strangers.
Compartment No 6 is at the Cinema du Parc. Info HERE.