Compartment No. 6 Review: Poignant, therapeutic exploration of loneliness
Finnish filmmaker Juho Kuosmanen's Compartment No. 6 documents a fleeting moment of companionship
Some movie characters don't take long to get their hooks on you. Finnish filmmaker Juho Kuosmanen's Compartment No. 6, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes last year, has one such. In its first 30 minutes, it makes its protagonist, a Finnish student named Laura (Seidi Haarla), a very recognisable individual because her thoughts -- not all of them, though -- became immediately apparent to me. It's a film that gives you the odd feeling the character's mannerisms are slowly becoming part of you. I happened to watch Compartment No.6 when I was battling a case of the blues. Talk about the right film at the right time.
Director: Juho Kuosmanen
Cast: Seidi Haarla, Yuri Borisov
Streaming on: BookMyShow Stream
The film's most poignant moment arrives an hour into it when Laura tells Ljoha (Yuri Borisov), a stranger she just met on the train, how she misses her girlfriend and lover Irina. The latter was supposed to take a trip with her to see the petroglyphs (ancient rock carvings) in a remote locale. But she couldn't make it because she was "caught up with work". Laura's decision to see the petroglyphs was motivated by the urge to understand "where we came from". Understanding our past to understand our present and all that. Laura's relationship with Irina is tinged with a layer of ambiguity. There is no clarity on how deep their bond is. You get the sense that Irina doesn't take their relationship as seriously as Laura does. Although we see a brief moment of passion between them when the film opens, it gradually becomes apparent that things are not so hunky-dory between them. And the two possess seemingly opposite traits: Irina, with her gang of intellectuals, and the reserved Laura, who feels awkward in their presence.
Laura becomes compelled to go on the trip on her own. She has to share her train compartment with Ljoha, a man whose inappropriate behaviour makes her so uncomfortable that she looks for a different compartment, only to return to the first when Ljoha becomes sober. She finds solace in the vintage camcorder, going through visuals of her time with Irina and her guests. But Ljoha, despite his annoying intrusiveness, and appalling behaviour that should get him arrested, later proves himself to be a non-threatening type. On the contrary, he gradually becomes an endearing character for Laura, an unlikely companion in whom she finds much comfort.
There is a strange kind of chemistry at work here. Ljoha is not someone I would root for, but he isn't entirely devoid of redeeming qualities, which become more evident as the film gets closer to its third act. He embodies an endearing goofiness which leads us to believe that our first impression of him may have been wrong. Laura brings this up in one scene where she tells him that her perception of him is shaped by whatever she saw of him up to that point.
Laura's pessimistic outlook is what, one assumes, brings Ljoha closer to her. He sees in her a kindred spirit of sorts. Like Laura, he, too, is feeling alone. When Laura entered his compartment, he felt a tinge of hope. And later, we even sense in him a flicker of possessiveness. When a third character enters the picture, the film uses this situation to play with our -- and the characters' -- perceptions. It's not clear when the feelings of self-loathing originated in her, but Ljoha makes it evident from the start that something has been troubling him for the longest time, the reasons unknown. Perhaps an unspoken traumatic experience in the past has shaped his nihilistic worldview.
The first sign of Ljoha's humanity becomes revealed when he invites Laura to meet a woman who is not his mother but maintains a mother-son-type relationship. "She is better than a mom," he tells Laura. When it's time for a toast, the older woman, armed with an admirable sense of self-assuredness, doesn't want to toast to love because it's "not concrete." She toasts to the instinct for self-preservation, which, in the older woman's case, helped her survive for over four decades.
It's a relief to know that the relationship between Laura and Ljoha doesn't take a predictable path. It wouldn't make sense if the characters did that. And it's all relayed through subtle body language. You see, Compartment No.6 is an example of great casting. Here are two actors who don't need to speak much or have a background score constantly accompanying their scenes to convey their characters' thought processes. Isn't that impressive?
Cinematographer Jani-Petteri Passi, who made the wise choice of shooting on Kodak 35mm, imparts his visuals with a dream-like texture. He opts for warm tones in the conversation scenes and deftly absorbs the atmosphere of the heavily snow-laden Russian landscapes during daytime or the urban locales with their moody cocktail of greens and blues at night. Compartment No.6 is one of those films that should make a strong case for why celluloid is a much better format than digital.
Some friendships don't last forever, but their fleeting nature notwithstanding, they are meant to show you the world is not a terrible place after all. Sometimes, a little act of generosity is all that's needed to brighten our day.