7.5

Compartment No. 6 Is a Train Romance at the End of the World

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<I>Compartment No. 6</i> Is a Train Romance at the End of the World

Laura (Seidi Haarla), a Finnish archeology student, is more than just a little unsure of herself at a party the night before she’s to leave on a long train trip from Moscow to Murmansk to see the famed Kanozero Petroglyphs. From the first shot—we see the back of Laura’s head as she nervously exits the bathroom—onward, it’s clear that she sees herself as an outsider looking in. Laura’s much more confident lover Irina (Dinara Drukarova) was supposed to accompany her on the voyage, but backed out at the last second due to vague, work-related reasons. Their relationship is one-sided and on its last legs. Not all that thrilled about venturing out on her own, Laura gets on the train anyway. She’s not alone for long. She gets off on the wrong foot with her surly compartment-mate Lyokha (Yuri Borisov), a belligerently drunk Russian miner headed to Murmansk for work. Laura’s dislike of Lyokha is so strong that she spends a considerable amount of time searching for a new compartment, to no avail. They’re stuck with each other in close quarters. It’s a testament to Juho Kuosmanen’s direction and Jani-Petteri Passi’s cinematography to say that Compartment No. 6 doesn’t feel overly claustrophobic; this is not a harrowing horror/thriller warning us about the dangers of traveling as a single woman. Instead, the light melting over Laura and Lyokha’s personal belongings creates a warm tone, one in which they can feel comfortable enough to mutually let their guard down.

Shot like an early Dardenne brothers film (intentionally shaky handheld camera movements follow the back of Laura’s head), Compartment No. 6 sees Laura frequently use her camcorder as an escape. Both filming people outside the train windows and rewatching footage from her old life with Irina, she takes the audience out of the cramped space. Kuosmanen also gives the film air to breathe through the stops along the way, during which Laura and Lyokha get to know each other in the freezing Russian winter despite themselves—including a trip to drink vodka with an elderly woman who delicately explains to Laura the importance for women to “listen to their inner small animal.” There couldn’t be a more fitting metaphor to describe Laura’s personal journey throughout Compartment No. 6: Learning to let go of past expectations and listening to her own intuition, without Irina or anyone else to prop her up.

Sometimes trusting yourself means making yourself vulnerable to people you might never have expected, like your alcoholic train companion. The enemies-to-lovers trope is a beloved narrative treasure, but it’s also well-worn territory. Kuosmanen sheds new light on the concept by ridding it of its heavy melodrama, opting instead for intimate, touching moments of one misfit extending kindness to another. Instinctively character-driven writing allows the natural chemistry between Haarla and Borisov to flourish without showing off; they have the space to make more spontaneously visceral choices that convey a shared, tender loneliness. Lyokha’s wiry, occasionally manic energy can’t resist chipping away at Laura’s quiet, watchful reserve. Their characters are drawn to and repelled by each other, usually within the space of a single scene, without burying the audience under a heap of dialogue.

Compartment No. 6 may strike some as a boozier Before Sunrise, but it’s more like the drier, Eastern European answer to Before Sunrise’s romantic Western sensibilities. Where Jesse and Céline are two beautiful strangers falling in love at first sight, Laura and Lyokha are two disheveled, weary wanderers who weren’t looking for anything other than a drink and a place to lay their head while begrudgingly on their way to their next destination. They may not find your classic Hollywood romance ending, but they are able to reach a rare, quiet moment of understanding that can only be found at the end of the world.

Director: Juho Kuosmanen
Writer: Andris Feldmanis, Livia Ulman, Juho Kuosmanen
Starring: Seidi Haarla, Yuri Borisov, Dinara Drukarova
Release Date: January 26, 2022


Brooklyn-based film writer Katarina Docalovich was raised in an independent video store and never really left. Her passions include sipping lime seltzer, trying on perfume and spending hours theorizing about Survivor. You can find her scattered thoughts as well as her writing on Twitter.