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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Vladimir Putin recently claimed that Russian culture was being cancelled in the west. The release of Compartment No. 6 proves him wrong: a movie about a Russian character behaving menacingly to someone from Finland, Russia’s vulnerable neighbour, and yet being romantically redeemed. There is a bone-chilling cold in the film’s location – Murmansk in Russia’s remote north-west – but a wonderful human warmth and humour in this offbeat story of strangers on a train and of national characteristics starting to melt.
The film is adapted from a novel by Rosa Liksom, and concerns a young Finnish student of archaeology, Laura (Seidi Haarla) who is in Moscow sometime in the early 90s; she has begun an impulsive affair with her professor, Irina (Dirana Drukarova). With Irina’s encouragement, and perhaps because this older woman does not care to have her hanging around much longer, Laura has resolved to make the tough rail journey up to Murmansk where she wants to view the petroglyphs – mysterious rock drawings, thousands of years old.
Sweet-natured, open-hearted Laura gets on this uncomfortable train where she finds that she must share compartment number 6 with Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov), a boorish, drunk young guy who is on his way to get a job in a coal mine in Murmansk and is openly abusive, misogynistic and philistine about Laura’s plans. Of course, the relationship of Ljoha and Laura is going to thaw. Ljoha’s scowling face and shaven, bullet head make him look a tough guy, but it isn’t long before we see him as vulnerable, never more so than when with Laura welcomes another Finnish guy to share their carriage - a self-admiringly sensitive type who insists on singing and playing his guitar. Ljoha is fiercely sceptical and resentful of this preening interloper, and he is right to be.
No one wants to help Laura find these petroglyphs that she has set her heart on and travelled so far to see, and it is Ljoha himself who has to step up. Of course, the point is that are millions of Ljoha’s fellow citizens who cannot be tarred by the malign mediocrity of Putin’s chauvinism.