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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Compartment No. 6' Review: Surprising Companionships In Juho Kuosmanen's Train Drama

Seidi Haarla with her eyes closed by a train window
Sony Pictures Classics

Before we begin, you should have already got the jokes about not seeing the films about the five previous compartments out of your system, then you may proceed and get on this train. Juho Kuosmanen's third directorial outing Compartment No. 6 (Hytti nro 6 in Finnish)—adapted for the screen by Andris Feldmanis, Livia Ulman and Kuosmanen from a novel of the same name by Rosa Liksom—takes you on a journey from Moscow to Murmansk sometime in the 1990s. Laura (Seidi Haarla) is a Finnish archeology student who is on her way to experience petroglyphs while uncertainty about the relationship with her girlfriend Irina (Dinara Drukarova) looms over her. On the train, however, she ends up finding an unexpected companionship with her compartment mate Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov), a Russian miner who also knows his way around beverages.

There's a short first sequence at Irina and Laura's place in Moscow that sets things up but the film really gets moving once Laura and the train depart the station. Kuosmanen and his team manage to pretty effortlessly invite you into the story and its tight spaces, creating a zone where time is not of the essence and where you just sit with Laura and Ljoha. Borisov and Haarla have good chemistry in their back and forth, Borisov especially is captivating in his role that is going between tough and exposed, both sides coming through in the performance.

Cinematographer J-P Passi somewhat dances alongside them surrounded by what seems like mostly practical lights, seamlessly going from closeups to medium compositions so viewers can feel equally stuck in the situation. That also doesn't get tiresome because there are breaks for a cigarette or hot-wired cars in small towns where the characters and cameras can move with some sense of time and freedom.

Few shakier moments do occur even if they're not exactly tiresome, like some awkward blocking in Ljoha and Laura's first encounter or the part featuring another Finnish passenger for example. Those moments aren't really confronted meaningfully which is worrying because there isn't escaping them in these small spaces, compared to Laura and Irina's discord which can be avoided due to distance between them. Latter example also features some of the film's excess that could've been edited better, either by cutting more or removing that part altogether. In this kind of case it's frustrating because technically everything works otherwise, one bright spot being the sound mix which is clear and dynamic despite having to balance the strain of train tracks and characters' conversations. There is even space made for appropriate, beguiling pop tunes despite the amount of emotional baggage in the compartment.

Smileys: Yuriy Borisov, cinematography, atmosphere, sound mixing

Frowneys: Minor issues with editing and directing

Excited to see how metal the sequel No. 666 will be once this universe gets going.


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