We’ve seen it before: two strangers meeting during a journey, not getting along, and then getting along well enough to get married. Compartment No. 6 offers an inventive variation of a well-travelled theme, situating a classic romantic encounter in the anxieties of the present.

Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen, who made his debut in 2016 with the beautifully understated boxing drama The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki, based his second feature on the Finnish novel of the same name by Rosa Liksom. Compartment No. 6, which shared the Grand Prix, the second-most prestigious award at the Cannes Film Festival, with Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero in 2021, is available on YouTube Movies and BookMyShow Stream.

Laura (Seidi Haarla), a Finnish archaeology student living in Moscow, is on her way to Murmansk to see the city’s famed petroglyphs. If these petroglyphs remind humankind of the very beginnings of art, Laura too is in search of a new direction. Her ardour for her perennially busy girlfriend has dimmed in the vague and meaningless manner in which some relationships tend to deteriorate.

Laura finds herself sharing her compartment with Lyokha (Yuri Borisov). Their first encounter will send a chill down the spine of every female viewer. Lyokha whips out a bottle of alcohol and asks Laura some very unsettling questions.

It’s a dance of trust between the university student and the working-class miner. As the train ploughs through the snow to Murmansk, Laura and Lyokha develop a bond whose boundaries remain undefined but recognisable too. Although worlds apart, they are united by an aching loneliness that is utterly universal.

The remarkable hand-held camerawork brings out the forced intimacy of the train compartment as well as draws us close to the main characters. An invisible editing style marks a slow-burning narrative that gradually builds up into a deeply affirmative film about the many meanings of modern love. Although there is scope for self-pitying despair, Compartment No. 6 finds unsentimental optimism in the harsh landscape and the array of brusque Russians who turn out be a lot like Lyokha.

Compartment No. 6 (2021).

Also in the ‘Start the week with a film’ series:

‘Confidentially Yours’ is a delightful goodbye to cinema

‘Amour’ and the things we do for love

In ‘Naal’, a young boy confronts a family secret