If you’ve ever been at a party where you felt completely out of place or in a relationship that wasn’t reciprocal, you could be like college student Laura (Seidi Haarla), the protagonist in “Compartment No.6” who doesn’t realize she’s having an identity crisis. Nor does Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov) a crass blue-collar worker with a penchant for the bottle. The two become temporary roommates on a Russian train bound from Moscow to Murmansk in this railway version of “The Odd Couple” meets “Before Sunrise” from Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen.

Loosely based on Rosa Liksom’s 2010 novel, the second film by Juho Kuosmanen (“The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki”) isn’t your typical love story. There is only a smidgen of romance in the cold, bleak, blustery air but it’s enough to make you want to root for Laura and Ljoha who aren’t looking for love just the core human need to connect and not necessarily with one another.

First impressions are a doozy here causing damage at the get-go. Laura is repulsed by Ljoha, a chain-smoking, hard-drinking Russian miner whose disheveled appearance (apart from the clean shaved head) and lack of etiquette is a turn-off for the intellectual college student whom he describes as the slang word for a woman’s genitals after she appears standoffish and pretentious. Of course, Laura tries to switch cabins, but none are available, so she’s stuck with Ljoha for the entire 923-mile trip that will take several days to complete.

Both actors, Haarla who resembles a young Mary Kay Place, and Borisov, think Michael Shannon minus hair, are great together with real chemistry. Not the great couple kind but you can see the two becoming best friends (opposites attract!) once the false pretenses are dropped and the pair begin to discover who they really are in this journey of discovery.

The 2021 Cannes Film Festival Grand Prize winner and Finland’s official entry in the 94th Academy Awards (Best International Feature) begins at a party in Moscow held by Laura’s older lover and professor Irina (Dinara Drukarova). The shindig swarming with academics leaves Laura feeling out of place especially after being corrected by an attendee after mispronouncing a word (yeah that kind of party).

The trip to Murmansk above the Arctic Circle was supposed to be a holiday for Laura and Irina to view ancient Petroglyphs but Irina gets tied up at the last night and encourages Laura to go alone. If it sounds like she’s trying to get rid of her you could be right. The calls along the way (the film takes place in the 90s which explains the payphones and camcorder that Laura lugs around) are met with a cold reception by Irina which also indicates a problem in the relationship.

Laura decides to go on the trip solo since she’s interested in archeology (or is she?) and so meeting Ljoha just adds to the dejection she’s feeling. As time goes by and the odd couple get a feel for one another discovering a gray area to coexist, eventually becoming civil and slightly enjoying each other’s company. Ljoha takes it down a few notches and Laura loosens up. The budding friendship derails when a Finnish John Mayer-wannabe enters the picture after Laura invites the stranger to join her and Ljoha in the cramped compartment.

Kuosmanen crafts a wonderful film beautifully shot by cinematographer Jani-Petteri Passi, the two use the bleak climate to provide contrast to our protagonists who begin to warm up to one another after leaving the train for an overnight excursion to visit Ljoha’s maternal friend (after he steals a car).

“Compartment No. 6” features exceptional performances and a story of acceptance that we can all relate to on some level. Don’t let the gloomy ambiance fool you. It’s easy to warm up to this enchanting anti-love story.

(3 ½ stars)

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Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.

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