Opposites attrack in Compartment No. 6

B romantic road movie
Written by Andris Feldmanis & Juho Kuosmanen, from the novel by Rosa Liksom
Directed by Juho Kuosmanen

You don’t expect a romantic road movie to come out of Russia – but then the director is Finnish. Two people are thrown together on a train. At first, they hate each other…or at least one of them hates the other. But slowly, over a long trip, they come to care about, and maybe love, the other. It’s a common plot, but it works.

Yes, this is a strange time to review a Russian movie. Afterall, the country is being run by a real-life James Bond villain. Besides, the movie is a period piece. I’m not sure when it was set, but I don’t recall a single smartphone, and the main character listens to her music through a Walkman.

Seidi Haarla stars as Laura, a Finnish anthropology student who sets out to find some ancient petroglyphs in the far north. Leaving her girlfriend’s flat behind, she boards a train going toward the Arctic Ocean – and crazily enough, she’s doing it in winter.

I love trains, and I love movies about trains. But in Compartment No. 6, Laura appears to have been stuck with the worst possible traveling mate… a rough, male, uncouth miner named Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov). He starts their relationship by asking Laura is if she’s a prostitute – and he asks it with the worst vocabulary you can imagine. No wonder Laura leaves the compartment and asks the conductor if there is any other compartment available. Of course, there isn’t. She’s stuck with a jerk who doesn’t even know what the word petroglyph means. But if you’ve seen enough movies, you know that a seemingly awful person could turn out to be a gem.

By the way, the conductor (Julia Aug) is a heavy-set woman wearing overdone eye shadow. Is that part of the uniform for female conductors, or is she hoping to find love on the job?

But slowly, Ljoha shows his better side. During an overnight stop, he takes her to a warm and friendly family. He comforts Laura after another man robs her. Even when Laura tells him that her lover is a woman, he accepts it.

For a romantic movie set on a train going through wilderness, cinematographer Jani-Petteri Passi don’t seem to be excited about beautiful scenery. Much of the views are industrial or just too dark. Even as Laura comes closer to her petroglyphs, the world seems ominous.

It’s a simple story about two people who get to know about each other.

Compartment No. 6 opens Friday, March 11, at the AMC Kabuki, the Albany Twin, and the Rafael. It will open in other theaters March 18.