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Thread: COMPARTMENT NO. 6 (Juho Kuosmanen 2021)

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    COMPARTMENT NO. 6 (Juho Kuosmanen 2021)

    JUHO KUOSMANEN: COMPARTMENT NO. 6


    SEIDI HAARLA, YURIY BORISOV IN COMPARTMENT NOL 6

    Brief encounter

    Juho Kuosmanen has taken the old theme of the romance of a long, exotic train voyage and wrung something sweet, unique and memorable out of it using very simple ingredients. Winner of the Un Certain Regard award for his previous feature The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (2016), the 42-year-old Finnish director has aroused international admiration, even affection, with his new film, which adapts Finnish writer Rosa Liksom's eponymous novel of a train ride and shifts its time period for the film from the Soviet era to the late nineties. Andris Feldmanis and Livia Ulman adapted, with the director; Ljulba Mulmenko wrote the Russian dialogues; J-P Passi crafted the intimate handheld camerawork. The latter is key: a lot of time is spent on the Moscow-Murmansk train, and Passi gives those interiors an amber cast and makes them romantic without taking away their grubbiness. The images have a quality of memory transformed into poetry.

    All the narrative focus is on the encounter of a young man and woman assigned to the eponymous compartment. Laura (Seidi Haarla), is a Finnish girl studying archaeology who's in love with her sophisticated Moscow landlady, Irina (Dinara Drukarova), a teacher who may possess inherited wealth and lives in a wonderful grand old apartment where she gives constant parties full of sophisticated people with whom, in the opening scenes, we see Laura, with her modest learning and limited Russian, struggling to keep up. Newly enthusiastic about an archaeology course she's taking, Laura was hoping Irina would go on this trip to the Arctic to see the petroglyphs at Murmansk, but Irina turned out to be too busy - or so she says, and Laura has bravely decided to go alone.

    Laura has been assigned a compartment with a shaved-head young man, Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov), who is already working his way through a bottle of vodka when she enters it, and is drunk and boorish from the get-go. But even then, there's a sexiness and a delicacy about him. It's he who has the feminine quality of the tease and the deceiver. Ultimately he will remain elusive, never giving all the way or allowing them to finally connect with the usual exchange of coordinates. But stopping there, a surprisingly rich and complicated relationship develops. The story - which this is, a haunting little short story richly developed - is a constant series of transformations as the relationship morphs from annoyance into sympathy into fun and with it closeness and even love before the journey's end or the visit to the petroglyphs - which turn out, in wintertime, to require some doing and provide a coda to the tale.

    In a first, crude drunken chat Ljoha winds up with the vulgarest of insults, suggesting Laura is on the train to sell sex. She tries to change to another cabin, even willing to cross the stony attendant's palm with rubles or enter the ghetto of third class - nothing doing. There's an overnight stop and Ljoha, forgetting his insults, invites Laura to spend it with him visiting an old lady he's connected to. After he gives her repeated chances, she finally gives in. The old lady is priceless, a playfulness and a complicity develop, and henceforth a bond develops - though Ljoha doesn't altogether lose his crudity and a certain remoteness. He is going to Murmansk, a dining car conversation reveals, to work in the mines, to make money, to start a "business" - he doesn't know what. He is Russian, he is male, he has that power here. But ultimately he's as rudderless as the girl.

    Critics have commented (favorably) on the film's quick variations in tone. There is that, but even more, over all there is the way being on a long train ride can mean things change suddenly. There's also the old-fashioned, broken connectedness of the pre-cell phone, pre-internet era. Laura must grab a pay or hotel phone when she gets a chance to dial Irina, who feigns less and less of an interest: the romance is only left on the side of Laura, who confesses to Ljoha she doesn't miss Irina, only the way Irina looked at her. As for Ljoha, in a quick Finnish lesson Laura has taught him the words for "fuck you" pretending they mean "I love you."

    A further alienation and a further coming together happens when Laura takes a tall young Finn, with no Russian, and no apparent seat, into their compartment. It breaks the complicity she and Ljoha had developed, and turns out to be a bad mistake. The Finn, who plays his guitar and sings an American song, is a thieving showoff. Laura loses her vintage video camera with all her Moscow memories on it. But this brings Laura and Ljoha closer when he asks her what her Moscow was like and listens to the answer with real interest and sympathy.

    The narrative's movements might almost seem too simple, were it not that this romance so carefully withholds conventional outcomes, the performances are so exquisite, and the film is so beautifully made. I found myself scrutinizing the faces of Laura and, especially, Ljoha, the more volatile and inscrutable of the two, to figure out what they were feeling, quite forgetting they were the actors in a film. The seemingly dreary action - the grotty train ride, bad booze, stale cigarettes, sweaty bodies, lank hair, lack of sleep - doesn't quite matter and breezes by because Kuosmanen makes it come alive with the action between Laura and Ljoha, which leads to a long tight embrace and a long kiss.

    But the young man can't handle intimacy, it seems, and the minute the train arrives at Murmansk station, Ljoha has disappeared without even saying a single "baka" (bye). After checking into the hotel lrina had booked, Laura finds her solo efforts to see the petroglyphs frustrated: everyone says in winter you simply can't get there. But then magic happens and Ljoha reappears. Cameron's Titanic is evoked - by him. Of course nothing about this is as magical, tragic, or romantic as Jack and Rose. But it's much more real. It has the pain of real parting, of a brief encounter that for reasons both mysterious and obvious, cannot last. And yet both Laura and Ljoha have been transformed, their faces anyway stronger and fresher - and surely not just from the cold air. An excellent series of appropriate pop tunes ends with Desireless' 1987 French hit "Voyage, voyage" under the credits.

    Compartment No. 6 (Finnish: Hytti nro 6; Russian: Купе номер шест), 107 mins. In Competition at Cannes May 2021, when it shared the Grand Prix with Asghar Farhadi's A Hero. Included in over two dozen other major international festivals including Toronto and Vancouver but not New York. Opening in LA in Nov. it made the 15 best foreign Oscar finalist list. Limited US release beginning Jan. 26. 2022. Metacritic rating: 81%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-19-2022 at 02:34 PM.

  2. #2
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    Admittedly the image above looks more yellow than amber, but it is amber, and Laura's hair is red. Ljoha calls attention to it.

    Jessica Kiang's beautiful conclusion to her Variety review:
    With its crystal clear reclamation of that last gasp of analogue — before the digital revolution put a cellphone in every pocket and as a species we lost the ability to ever be truly alone — the humdrum and heartswelling “Compartment No. 6” evokes a powerful nostalgia for a type of loneliness we don’t really have any more, and for the type of love that was its cure.

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