In “Compartment No. 6,” the Stranger on a Train Is a Drunken Russian Bear

Sometimes you possibly can inform from the first shot. In “Compartment No. 6,” the digicam follows a younger lady at a social gathering as she leaves a lavatory and enters a lounge stuffed with gathered mates. That strolling, back-of-the-head shot is considered one of the soggiest conventions of the steadicam period, a facile manner of conveying characters’ personal fields of imaginative and prescient whereas anchoring the motion on them. The familiarity of this trope suggests each restricted creativeness and an unwillingness to decide to a clear-cut standpoint. When used cannily, it might convey ambiguous neutrality and looming thriller, however, extra typically, it suggests the merely practical recording of motion, which is strictly what’s delivered in “Compartment No. 6,” opening in theatres on Wednesday. The film sinks, quick and deep, below the weight of dramatic shortcuts, overemphatic particulars, undercooked potentialities, unconsidered implications. It’s heavy-handed, tendentious, and regressive—and it ought to come as no shock that it’s on the fifteen-film shortlist for the Best International Feature Oscar.

The never-named lady in query (performed by Seidi Haarla) is Finnish and residing in Moscow with a considerably older Russian lady, Irina (Dinara Drukarova). Irina introduces her as her “Finnish friend,” however the lady is her lover. F.F. leaves Moscow on a prepare journey that takes a number of days, en path to Murmansk, in Russia’s Arctic area, to go to a well-known set of petroglyphs—historical rock carvings. Irina was purported to take the journey along with her however is stored in Moscow, supposedly by work.

As the title suggests, a lot of the film takes place throughout this prepare journey, in an indeterminate time earlier than cell telephones. F.F. listens to music on a cassette Walkman and carries a small however stocky video digicam that makes use of tapes. F.F. shares the sleeping compartment with a younger Russian man who calls himself Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov). He’s drunk, aggressive, and crude; boasts of Russia’s greatness; insults Estonia (she explains that she’s from Finland); and, whereas asking her if she’s “selling [her] pussy,” grabs her between her legs. She bolts from the compartment and tells the conductor that she wants a completely different one; her request is denied, and, with nowhere else to go, F.F. returns to the web site of the abuse and resigns herself to travelling guardedly and sleeping warily.

But guess what? In the course of the journey, Ljoha, who has a fierce crewcut and a massive scar on his brow, proves himself to be thoughtful, even useful. When she faces hassle from one other aggressor, he protects her; he does his finest to befriend her. They discuss a bit: he’s heading to Murmansk to work as a miner, hoping to save cash to begin a enterprise of his personal; she claims to be an archeology pupil (which she’d denied being in Moscow), she claims to have a boyfriend, and says little extra. Whenever F.F. can make the most of an accessible pay telephone to name Irina, she finds her curt, rushed, distant. A bohemian traveller joins them in the compartment however proves to be even worse firm. Without spoiling a lot, when F.F. will get to Murmansk, she has some hassle there, and Ljoha, with nice issue and nice devotion, involves the rescue. Their emotional bond places her lonely and unfulfilled wanderings in a beatifically nostalgic and mawkish mild.

“Compartment No. 6,” based mostly on a novel of the identical title by Rosa Liksom, is the story of a lonely lady of obscure bourgeois standing and obscure mental longings who learns who her actual mates are. She discovers that her mental lover and her bohemian acquaintance are unreliable and that a crude, nationalistic, misogynous, bodily abusive man has a coronary heart of gold and can transfer heaven and Earth—and persuade his equally rugged workingman mates to pitch in—to assist her out of a jam. It’s a story of the endearing Russian bear, which rings discordantly when that bear has its claws out for its neighbors. It depicts a lady’s fast forgiveness of a sexual predator with whom she’s compelled to affiliate. It’s about the fecklessness of the mental class and the clean vacancy of the Western (and Westernized) bourgeoisie—the screenplay intentionally leaves F.F. clean, even unto her title. Ljoha isn’t fairly as clean, as a result of in his unguarded drunkenness, he blurts out a few of his prejudices and acts out his impulses.

F.F.’s blankness is a form of homework for the film’s viewers. Many in the art-house viewers, whether or not in Finland or elsewhere, have been strangers on a prepare. They have skilled the delights, surprises, mysteries, and fears of old style rail journey, and people recollections can fill in the naked outlines of the cinematic coloring ebook that the director of “Compartment No. 6,” Juho Kuosmanen, has assigned them. The uninflected, typical simplicity of Kuosmanen’s method isn’t as numbing as the movie’s calculated vacancy and failure of creativeness relating to the personalities of the film’s two protagonists (and, for that matter, of different characters they meet alongside the manner). The characters are mere digital figures for a cinematic algorithm.

The journey towards petroglyphs impressed excessive hopes: it jogged my memory of a nice scene in a nice film, Roberto Rossellini’s “Voyage to Italy,” through which the travels of a lady (Ingrid Bergman) and her uncaring husband (George Sanders) contain a side trip to Pompeii. There, the expertise of historical catastrophe, as built-in into the drama and filmed straightforwardly however ardently by Rossellini, rises to a excessive symbolic and emotional pitch. Yet even the grand humanistic reverberations of historical artifacts depart Kuosmanen’s directorial gaze uninspired, even uninterested.

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