VIFF 2021 Review: Compartment No. 6

Written by Taylor Baker


“All humans should be killed.”

Juho Kuosmanen’s sophomore feature Compartment No. 6 popped on my radar after it received the Cannes Grand Prix award alongside Asgar Farhadi’s A Hero. His first feature previously took home the Un Certain Regard Award at Cannes back in 2016. Juho’s well formed presentation, smooth transitions, and distinctiveness make it feel like his 10th, rather than his second.

The film begins with a social party at our main character Laura’s lovers home/apartment in Moscow. Her name is Irina and it’s not immediately clear who Laura knows at this party or if she even belongs there. She stumbles into a parlor and leans against a couch as everyone trades lines of literature back and forth asking each other who said that or wrote that. Eventually Irina asks the group who said, “The parts of us can only touch parts of others.” Only Laura replies, she guesses wrong and is visibly ashamed. She wanders off secluding herself alone in a room where she begins to look at a book on petroglyphs. Thus starts Compartment No. 6 a not quite romantic tale of a woman from Finland taking a train to Murmansk to see petroglyphs.

Vancouver International Film Festival 2021

Eventually it’s made clear to us that not only does Laura live in this home she seems so out of place in, she’s also Irina’s lover. The woman who quoted Marilyn Monroe’s line, “The parts of us can only touch parts of others.” Laura is played by relative newcomer to film Seidi Haarla, who wears discontentment on her face with ease. She had planned to travel to Murmansk with Irina. But for unclear reasons Irina chooses not to come leaving Laura alone to board the train north. Her ticket assigns her to Compartment No. 6 where she comes face to face with Ljoha, a middle aged Russian man moving north to work in a mine. Laura seems to have a healthyt dislike of everyone and Ljoha is no exception. She quickly flees the compartment that first night and opts to spend every second she can in the dining car.

After a time as expected the dining car closes and Laura is driven back to her compartment in which a now stone drunk Ljoha who won’t leave her be. The relationship between these two becomes center to the film. No extra tendril of emotion is mistakenly placed, no melodramatic convention incurred. Life happens along the rails and these two are thrown together by it or through it. A man from Finland who can’t speak Russian joins them for a time. They visit a woman in a town the train stops in over night for more than a few drinks. These details sound uninteresting, but they’re palpable and filled with moments of internal character expression brought to life through dialogue, ticks, and behavior. The camerawork is so subtle and effective that it’s easy to forget it’s working on you.

Compartment No. 6 isn’t something that can be explained. It’s a picture that is witnessed, that is felt, and that is experiential. No amount of recounting can do justice to what exactly it feels like to view Juho’s texturous tale of lost souls bound toward a destination that is empty of the answers they truly seek. Like most great films it’s one you’ll need to see for yourself.

Compartment No. 6 Trailer

Compartment No. 6 was viewed as part of the 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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