Quietly ruminating on what brings us together as humans, especially our need to connect as we navigate the harshness, and likely loneliness, of being alive.
Poetic, contemplative and quietly touching, Compartment No. 6 is a film without fireworks, show-stopping moments or catharsis. Not for those who prefer the melodramatic over the thoughtful and introspective, this is a film that will likely have its strongest response in arthouse circles more attuned to this type of low-key, insightful storytelling.
As simple and straightforward as this film might be, the best way to interpret it is to look between the lines: observe its characters’ nuances, the small yet powerful moments of silence and those little interactions that reveal much more about its characters’ psyche than any bits of dialogue could have. In capturing intricate human emotions while never going the blunt route, Juho Kuosmanen delivers a moving picture on how we all strive for true connections, ones that deserve to fight for, yearn to and work hard to keep.
Some may interpret it as a love story; others may go beyond and see it as a story about finding the humanity in others. As different and distanced we may feel towards those around us, there’s always a way to bridge the gap – only if we’re truly interested to let go of our biases to truly listen and see. In this sense, Compartment No. 6works both as an endearing love story on one level and a film that celebrates humanity on a more macro-level.
Compartment opens with Laura (Seidi Haarla), a Finnish grad student, who is about to embark on an exciting journey to see the rock drawings in a distant Russian location just before she concludes her studies. A brilliant casting choice, Haarla is amazing at capturing and communicating, through gestures and body language, Laura’s overwhelming sense of not fitting in – not just because of her nationality, but because there’s something rather different about her that doesn’t seem to make her quite click with those around her.
When we discover she has a Russian lover, Irina, we never shake off that outsider feeling she seems to be trapped in. This observation is something Kuosmanen is very keen on emphasizing early on, and we gradually get to grasp its roots. Not only has Laura been studying and living in a foreign country, she has always been trapped in a game of self expectations and an innate need to feel desirable, appreciated and needed.
As she embarks on her journey, taking the train, she shares her cabin with Ljoha (a fantastic Yuriy Borisov), who seems like the last person she’d like to be with. As the long journey starts taking a toll, the two are forced to forget their differences and find a way to connect.
Brilliantly capturing emotions of loneliness and isolation, Kuosmanen finds beauty in the smallest moments and captures hopes even in the coldest, most unforgiving of landscapes. By the end of the running time, we feel like we truly know and root for the two leads – and their undeniable chemistry helps make our connection to them, as audiences, just as strong and enjoyable as they’re drawn to one another.
Bottom line: More than just a love story, Compartment No. 6 celebrates the bonds that tie us together even as our backgrounds, beliefs and perspectives may set us apart. A hopeful, poetic film that’s as touching as it is elegant, contemplative and highly relatable.
This review is from the Toronto International Film Festival. Sony Pictures Classics will release Compartment No. 6 in the U.S. at a later date.