Compartment No. 6

The warmth and intimacy of Compartment No. 6 feels magical

The new film by director Juho Kuosmanen is a Scandinavian take on Linklater’s Before trilogy — the world seen through the eyes of a young Finnish woman uncomfortable with the Russian atmosphere.

A long train ride from Moscow to the Arctic port of Murmansk takes a turn for the worse when a young Finnish woman meets her boorish cabin-mate. In the throes of a passionate love affair with an older woman, Laura (Seidi Haarla) originally planned the trip as a romantic getaway. Her lover, a popular and charismatic professor, pulled out at the last minute. Laura makes the long trip anyway, wanting to seem independent and even aloof. Intimate and unexpected, the film centres on the meeting of strangers drawn together by a common destination. 

Most of Compartment No. 6 takes place on a rickety train. The crowded and overused space looks as though it stinks of the overripe smell of vodka hangovers and impatient cigarette breaks that cling to the characters. For all its grime and dirt, though, the world that director Juho Kuosmanen creates feels authentic and vaguely romantic. It’s not necessarily romantic in the sense of love, but the rosy potential of all human interactions. It’s reminiscent of Linklater’s Before trilogy, but more Scandinavian — the world seen through the eyes of a young Finnish woman uncomfortable with the Russian atmosphere.

compartment no. 6
Seidi Haarla

Laura and her cabin-mate, Lyokha (Yuriy Borisov), get off on the wrong foot. In Moscow, surrounded by intellectuals, Laura felt out of place and uncertain, but she felt at least a sense of belonging through her relationship. On a train filled with a wide variety of people and experiences, her place in the upper class is more ingrained but her displacement amplified. Compared to the Russian teachers and students she’s used to, Lyokha, a mining engineer, comes across as loud, insistent and disrespectful, disturbing Laura’s guarded Scandinavian sensibilities. She wants a new room, and she wants off the train.

There’s something deceptively simple about a film like Compartment No. 6. It has no grand ambitions and is satisfied to explore small, relatable ideas like the feeling of overestimating your lover’s interest and the anxiety of new environments. Laura becomes an excellent journeywoman for this type of story, a quiet and uncertain person still searching for a sense of self. Painfully self-aware, she invents reasons and fantasies to hide her true whims and desires. When she wants to go home early, cutting her train ride short, she makes an excuse, only to realize she might not be wanted back. As long as Laura continues towards the Arctic, she can keep up the charade of a happy and fulfilling relationship waiting for her back home.

As you can imagine, Laura and Lyokha come to a greater sense of understanding as the journey goes on. Their friendship takes unexpected detours, still fraught with tensions and insecurities, but they learn and grow together. While hardly revolutionary material, the perceptiveness of these particular characters and environments feels fresh and spontaneous. Both Yuriy Borisov and Seidi Haarla are compelling leads who play beautifully off each other. The various tensions rooted in language, gender and class emerge naturally, leading to unexpected realizations and ideas. 

Compartment No.6
Yuriy Borisov and Seidi Haarla

With so many films of questionable quality hitting our screens, it’s easy to forget how beautiful and inviting the human face is. Set primarily on a train, characters are locked into place as landscapes fly by them, pulled towards destinies beyond their control. Navigating such a tight interior space offers the viewer unexpected closeness and intimacies with characters who might otherwise seem closed off or elusive. Our physical proximity to them makes every gesture look and feel larger than life. Hyperbolic, maybe, but it genuinely feels like witnessing a miracle, like seeing other people for the first time. It’s humbling to remember the vulnerability needed to open yourself to others and allow yourself to be seen. 

The warmth and intimacy of Compartment No. 6 feels magical. It’s effortless and sincere as it delves into an unusual meeting with unexpected consequences. Much like The Worst Person in the World, it’s a late coming-of-age film about finding yourself in your 20s and 30s, particularly in people and places you might never have expected. With the movie theatres opening back up, the impulse might be to lean into spectacle — but for my money, a small, intimate movie like this one benefits most from the big-screen experience. ■

Compartment No. 6 opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Feb. 25.

Compartment No. 6, directed by Juho Kuosmanen

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