David Cuevas takes a look at Compartment No.6′, as part of FilmHounds’ ongoing Cannes Film Festival coverage.

Juho Kuosmanen has a strange fascination with fate. In The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, the film prominently focuses on brief conversations and gestures to exemplify its optimistic viewpoint on eventual career failure. It’s a narrative all about conforming with the future, where Kuosmanen infuses romantic-tropes and cliches for dignified results. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki may just be a perfect romance film; a production that encapsulates the normalcy of personal confrontation with fate in the face of great romantic admiration. The same focus on fate and eventual destiny can be contrasted with Compartment No. 6 — a film which follows young Laura; a woman on a spiritual quest in finding a series of unique Petroglyphs located in a remote Russian port. Kuosmanen situates his viewer in a relentless rickety train car, as we experience Laura’s perception of the ongoing traffic and occasional detours on the trip, including but not limited to the annoyingly sanguine bond between Russian drunk Ljoha. 

Compartment No. 6 is a film all about the power of camaraderie; a befriendment melodrama set on a fateful chilly winter during the late 1990’s. The journey to Murmansk is frequently nostalgic and brutally claustrophobic, as the highly attentive sound mix combines rich diegetic sound effects to emphasise the speed and momentum of the moving train car. As Laura slowly adapts to her eccentric roommate —with all of his drunken quibbles included— Kuosmanen gently lulls his viewer within the serene sub-zero environment. Shot on Kodak film, the pastel colours and soft hue of certain landscapes and set-pieces provide the film a resonant cinematic experience. 

Still Courtesy – Aamu Film Company

It isn’t until a sudden third act move where Kuosmanen nearly destroys his pleasant setup with an act of romantic insinuation. Unlike The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (where the romance is specifically necessary to the central narrative crux of the film), Kuosmenen could have easily kept the character relationship between Laura and Ljoha purely platonic. The additional romantic subtext featured within Compartment No. 6’s third act detracts from both the emotional impact and gratifying “chance encounter” setup, as a singular scene involving brief romantic insinuation does not provide a reasonable rationale for its own existence — but rather an unfortunate moment of Queer erasure. 

Yet once the train car arrives at the Murmansk station, Kuosmanen returns to the film’s natural offbeat aesthetic. What follows is an endearing ode to human indifference and camaraderie, as two completely different strangers bond over the dawn of the new millennium, the commotion and hecticness of rail commuting, and the joys of mutual indifference. That’s the power of friendship; a tale as old as any century-dated petroglyph. 

Still Courtesy – Aamu Film Company
Compartment No. 6 competed at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in Official Competition. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film in the coming months.

By David Cuevas

David Cuevas is a writer, reporter, and the official festivals editor (US/Canada) for FilmHounds Magazine. In his spare time, you can find him watching a bunch of movies while contemplating on his own existence.

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