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A Journey Worth Taking: “Compartment No. 6”

9 March 2022
A Journey Worth Taking: “Compartment No. 6”
“Great loves begin with journeys.
 and adventurers fall on these roads only”
                            

Ahmet Telli

We take a closer look at “Compartment No. 6”, where Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen shared the Grand Jury Prize with “Hero” at the Cannes Film Festival.

“Compartment Number 6” is a train journey that takes place in Russia in the first half of the 90s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is possible to give a lot of praise for the movie, but it has to be said that it creates a nostalgic narrative that makes you feel the smell and humid air of the places where everything takes place. The old telephone booths at the stations where the train stopped during the journey, the snowy Russian streets, when you say one night they stayed in St. Petersburg, it is possible to feel that the movie takes place in Russia in the mid-90s. Because at the end of the movie, you leave the theater with the main characters, Laura and Ljoha, and descend into a city in the north of Russia, leaving behind you the smell of a run-down train where the backpacks of all kinds of people collide in the narrow corridors that smell of rust and dampness. And of course, sensing the pungent smell of cold.

A Journey Worth Taking: “Compartment No. 6”

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Finnish writer Rosa Liksom published in 2011, “Compartment No. 6” opens as a guest at a room full of intellectuals’ house party in Moscow. One of the main characters of the movie, Laura (Seidi Haarla), is an archeology student in her late 20s who came to Russia from Finland to learn languages. The embarrassment caused by Laura’s mispronunciation of an author’s name in a quotation completion game played among the party’s guests makes the audience feel that she is unfamiliar with this settled environment and does not feel like she belongs. Another maxim we hear during this play perhaps expresses the main point of the movie: “Only some parts of us will touch, some parts of others.” We hear these words of Marilyn Monroe from the mouth of Irina, a professor of Russian literature with whom Laura has been together for a while and lives at home. The relationship between the two, which we saw throughout the party, which is on the verge of extinction, already leaves a question mark as to how much they can touch “pieces of each other”. The day after the party, Laura takes the train alone from Moscow to see the thousands of years old petroglyphs in Murmansk to embark on the journey she and Irina had planned to go on, but could not come because Irina had a job.

A Journey Worth Taking: “Compartment No. 6”

“Road movies are often about freedom. You can get anywhere with a car, every intersection is a new possibility. However, I think that freedom is not in an infinite number of options, but rather in the ability to accept our limits. A train ride is more like destiny. You can’t decide where to go, you have to accept whatever the journey gives you.”

Juho Kuosmanen

Thus begins the journey that covers most of the film. In the second-class compartment, where we smell the rusty smell of worn irons, we see for the first time Ljoha, a very drunk, uncanny miner whose haircut reinforces his harsh temperament, who will go to Murmansk just like her. “Compartment No. 6” does not open this train journey scene with the feeling of romance and interaction that the audience is accustomed to hearing when we see a man and woman traveling in a train compartment. On the contrary, Ljoha, who is rude and drunk, leaves an uncanny impression on the audience as well as on Laura.

At the very beginning of the movie, at the house party, we also see the tension that Laura experiences while trying to socialize with people who are outside her mother tongue and who she thinks are more culturally savvy than her, on the train journey. This time the roles change, the same thing happens between the intellectual Laura and this rude miner. The language issue reappears from the very first dialogues with Ljoha. Ljoha, who understands that Laura is a foreigner from her good but not fluent Russian, disturbs Laura with various questions, one of which is the Finnish equivalent of “I love you”. In response to this rude man’s rude attitude, Laura answers the question with a curse in her own language. However, this curse will now mean “I love you” in the love that will be born in the continuation of the journey of Laura and Ljoha.

In this respect, I think that “Compartment No. 6” is in contact with the barriers of language and the existence of supra-class feelings in touching someone else’s soul or establishing a romantic relationship. The language barrier appears not only in Laura’s fluent but fluent Russian, but also when Ljoha finds it difficult to express himself. At this point, I remember once again the adage we heard at the beginning of the movie, “Only some parts of us will touch, some parts of others”. Is it necessary to share the same language or use words to be able to touch someone else? Because I feel the moments when Laura touches Ljoha in these travel scenes, in the drawing she drew while Ljoha was asleep, or in the compassionate expression on Laura’s face when the train stopped at a station while Ljoha was playing outside in the snow like a child, watching her when her foot slipped and fell.

When the train journey ends and they arrive in Murmansk, the journey is not complete, and we see the duo on their way to a place outside the city where the petroglyphs are in harsh weather conditions. While no one takes Laura to the area where the petroglyphs are, due to the stormy weather and extreme cold, Ljoha accompanies her here. When they reach the snow-covered and partially frozen islet, we don’t see what’s going on on the thousands of years old stones that Laura wants to see in order to “know their past”; language and its signs are lost here once again. We cannot see what the petroglyphs symbolize.

A Journey Worth Taking: “Compartment No. 6”
Petroglyphs, meaning “stone carvings” in Ancient Greek, were carved or engraved on rocks, unlike the paintings on cave walls in prehistoric times. Petroglyphs reflecting the cultural traces of the past are even considered by some ethnographers and archaeologists as early forms of cinema. The petroglyphs of Kanozero, which Laura went to see, were discovered in 1997 around Russia’s Lake Murmansk.

This love story, born between two strangers, who we feel could not find what they were looking for in life, even though we cannot see their past fully, tells not a love that made butterflies fly in our stomachs from the very beginning, but a love established with compassion and understanding the other. Just as we do not know the backgrounds of the characters, we do not know what Laura sees in the petroglyphs. In my opinion, “Compartment No. 6” tells about the love that will be born between two completely different people, despite all the differences, through a genuine train journey. Sometimes the tongue cracks and splits, and a curse in a completely different language turns into “I love you”.