In the late 1990s, Laura (Haarla) is a Finnish graduate student studying archaeology in Russia, clearly in thrall to her older lover Irina (Drukarova), who throws cool parties in her Moscow apartment. Yet Laura isn’t really comfortable in this rarefied milieu, and follows through on a long, solo train trip north to Murmansk, where she hopes to locate ancient rock drawings. Sharing her cramped compartment is Ljoha (Borisov), a Russian working class lout who begins the journey by getting blind drunk. But gradually, relations improve and deepen between these two unlikely fellow travelers.
Kuasmanen’s observational, utterly winning road film sneaks up on you largely by defying expectations. Coming from different countries and classes, it’s clear Laura and Ljoha could only meet by chance. Though opposites in many respects, they connect because they are both adrift in their lives. What transpires between them is more nuanced than your typical screen romance, but no less affecting. Haarla’s superb performance carries the film, but Borisov excels too. As vulnerable as Laura is, we admire her pluck in making this arduous journey alone. And we find room in our hearts for Ljoha too, who underneath all the macho bluster has a tender soul. Find your way to “Compartment Number 6.”