If you’ve ever wondered what Before Sunrise might look like if it were set in the Arctic Circle rather than in a beautiful capital of Europe, Compartment Number 6 has you covered. It’s colder and greyer, and there are a few more cases of loose cured meats rolling around the train carriage, but Juho Kuosmanen’s light and slight romcom keeps the naturalistic geniality intact. It doesn’t reach the same heights as Richard Linklater’s masterful trilogy, but this is still a lovable slice of holiday romance.
We first meet our Finnish heroine Laura (Seidi Haarla) at a terrible Russian party in Moscow, surrounded by philosopher-quoting pseuds and trying to catch the attention of her mostly inattentive girlfriend Irina, who has recently dropped the bombshell that she won’t be joining Laura on their planned trip to Murmansk in the far north. Out of a slightly sad sense of duty, Laura is going anyway – ostensibly to study some ancient rock drawings by the coast – and it’s on the sleeper train that she meets her bunkmate for the next few nights, Russian miner Vadim (Yuriy Borisov).
Vadim gives a bad, even frightening, first impression, getting absolutely wasted and loudly asking if Laura is a prostitute and, if there is a core flaw to Compartment Number 6, it’s that Kuosmanen’s script may not quite do enough to justify why Laura would forgive this, especially in the short time-frame the film takes place in. But, after a stay in a town where the train stops overnight, Vadim shows a softer, more charming side, and both we and Laura are slowly won over.
Borisov has a lot of fun in the role – Vadim is mostly a goofball, and Borisov has a good line in pratfalls, which generally earn hearty laughs. Haarla is impressive too, seamlessly switching between Finnish and Russian and capturing the bone deep anxiety of knowing you’ve started a journey for which you are not actually prepared, but you still have to see through. As the pair’s chemistry becomes less tense, there are some adorable scenes, Vadim and Laura building inside jokes and breaking down one another’s walls with lighthearted yet probing questions.
Further adding to the general Before Sunrise vibes is Compartment Number 6’s late 90s/early 2000s setting. Kuosmanen never draws self-conscious attention to this choice, but the lack of mobile phones is vital to a story like this working, obliging the temporary roommates to spark a conversation. Watching this relationship build is, therefore, a lot of nostalgic fun, even if there is never quite the emotional climax you might want – the final 30 minutes is considerably slower than everything that precedes it. It won’t change your life or linger with you too long after the credits roll, but this is about as sweet as Scandi filmmaking gets, which is an achievement that shouldn’t be too readily overlooked.