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Reviews for January 26th, 2022

Compartment No. 6

Directed by Juho Kuosmanen

      Laura (Seidi Haarla), a Finnish student studying archeology, lives with her girlfriend, Irina (Dinara Drukarova), in Moscow. As their relationship comes to an end, she begins a new one with Lyoha (Yuri Borisov), a stranger she shares a compartment with on a long train ride to the city of Murmansk. They both travel to Murmansk for different reasons. He hopes to secure a job there while she wants to see rock paintings known as petroglyphs.

      Based on the novel by Rosa Liksom, Compartment No. 6 is an heartfelt romance between two seemingly different people. Laura and Lyoha are like a couple in a screwball comedy who get on each other's nerves at first until they gradually form a bond with another. Lyoha has a dark past and exhibits toxic behavior, especially when he's drunk. The film is far from a screwball comedy, though, but it does have a few ephemeral moments of humor. It's not a thriller, either, like Strangers on a Train. Writer/director Juho Kuosmanen instead takes the more grounded approach by exploring the relationship between Laura and Lyoha. There's not much of a complicated plot nor does there have to be, but there's still some emotional depth and complexities to engage the audience's emotions. The dynamics of their relationship is the film's main focus much like the relationship explored in Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise.

      Although, to be fair, Compartment No. 6 doesn't quite reach the emotional and intellectual heights of Before Sunrise, it comes close enough. Kuosmanen wisely avoids schmaltz, melodrama and contrivance. There's no voice-over narration nor flashbacks either, although Laura and Lyoha's past is part of what makes them more interesting and, above all, human. He also doesn't paint Lyoha as a villain even though he comes across as unlikable more often than not. There's nothing wrong with a character being unlikable as long as there are more dimensions to the character than that unlikeability. Fortunately, Kuosmanen finds those dimensions in the character of Lyoha who has more to him than meets the eye. It's moving to observe how both he and Laura have emotional pains that they're dealing with, so they're both alike despite their many differences on the surface. Their humanity is what serves as the film's glue, so kudos to Kuosmanen for treating both of them so compassionately as complex human beings.

      The natural, raw performances by Seidi Haarla and Yuri Borisov. They have great chemistry together when they begin to fall for each other, but even when they don't get along at first, the performances still remain grounded in naturalism. There's almost a voyeuristic element to the film as the audience watches their relationship unfold in the train's compartment. Despite that much of the film takes place within that train compartment, it never feels too stuffy, tedious or theatrical. Kousmanen provides plenty of opportunities for both Seidi Haarla and Yuri Borisov to open the window into their characters' heart, mind and soul. Without revealing any spoilers, Laura undergoes a character arc that feels believable thanks to the screenplay as well as Seidi's performance. The third act ends on an understated, yet provocative note that doesn't spoon-feed the audience. Bravo to Kuosmanen for treating the audience like human beings with a heart, mind and soul, and for knowing just when to trust their imagination, intelligence, patience and emotions. At a running time of 1 hour and 47 minutes, Compartment No. 6 is an engrossing, tender and refreshingly un-Hollywood love story.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Sony Pictures Classics.
Opens at Angelika Film Center.