“Compartment No.6” (MA) *** and half
COVID-19 may have complicated the antecedents of this Finnish drama and its production, but when it gets down to what appears on Australian cinema screens, I reckon it does well enough.
Since childhood, I have loved trains – the longer, both train and journey, the better. Most of writer/director Juho Kuosmanen’s film “Compartment No.6” takes place on a train between Moscow (about latitude 56 degrees north) and Murmansk (about 2.5 degrees of latitude north of the Arctic Circle at latitude 69 degrees north). It’s winter. You think Canberra’s winter is cold?
Laura (Seidi Haarla) lives with her lover Irina who has planned a visit to the Murmansk petroglyphs (neolithic rock carvings depicting the life of wandering hunters). At the last minute, Irina is unable to go, leaving Laura to travel into the northern cold alone.
On the train, Laura finds somebody already in her two-person sleeping compartment. Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov) is a companion with whom a young woman doesn’t want to spend several days of confinement – slobbish, drunken, rude, at times sexually menacing, whose detritus (smoke, unpalatable food, bottles of liquor) has already marked out Compartment No.6 as his territory. The boot-faced attendant takes a malicious pleasure in Laura’s situation.
Trying to bed down in the crammed corridor makes Laura accept that she has to find a way to co-exist with Ljoha. In exasperation, she takes him to the dining car where an unlikely relationship begins to take root in this pair who have only youth and humanity in common. He is off to a mine near Murmansk. Increasingly dismissive phone calls with Irina signal that maybe Laura will have little reason to return to the Moscow flat.
In Murmansk, the museum is closed for the season and conducting trips to visit the petroglyphs are off. Ljoha and his workmates organise a small boat trip across icy seas to take Laura to them. They’re almost obscured by ice, and the camera doesn’t investigate either them or Laura’s reaction.
This is what she has come for, but maybe they aren’t so significant after all, and it’s the journey that counts – for Laura, Ljoha and us sitting in the cinema watching the story and journey unfold.
My main regret about “Compartment No.6” is director Kuosmanen’s decision not to show the loco in the train shots. He had his reasons. Half a world and more away, who am I to quibble?
At Palace Electric and Dendy
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