In Review

Film review: Compartment No. 6

Warming film about a train ride through 1990s Russia

Juho Kuosmanen, the Finnish director of Compartment No. 6, has said of his own films: “Basically, they are boring.” And it’s true that nothing much happens in this one, said Deborah Ross in The Spectator. It is set over the course of a long train journey across Russia in 1998. Seidi Haarla plays Laura, a Finnish archaeology student who’s travelling to Murmansk in the north of the country to see some Stone Age rock carvings. 

On boarding the train, she’s dismayed to learn she’s sharing her sleeper carriage with a “bullet-headed, tough-looking, chain-smoking, vodka-glugging Russian man”, Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov), who is drunk and grabs at her crotch. It seems there’s “no way this pair are going to connect” – but gradually they do. This is a “character-as-plot film, and if that isn’t your style it is going to feel like a very long journey indeed”. It didn’t to me, though. “It seemed worthwhile.” 

Compartment No. 6 has a lovely visual “texture”, said Tim Robey in The Daily Telegraph. But it’s the “rapport between the actors – or the anti-rapport, to start with” – that makes it so enjoyable. Haarla plays Laura with great vulnerability, while Borisov presents “such a vivid portrait of inarticulate male neurosis, hiding behind an armour of pathetic misogyny, that we even grow oddly protective of him, too”. 

The film was mostly shot “within the confines of a real Russian train”, said Mark Kermode in The Observer, and it captures the setting “brilliantly”. As for any wider message, its “central theme of overcoming otherness and finding common ground across personal, cultural and geographical borders seems like a balm for the soul in these tumultuous times”. 

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