Finland’s entry for Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards, “Compartment No. 6,” tells the story of two strangers who are seated together by chance and will forever change the other’s outlook on life. Director and co-writer Juho Kuosmanen decided to bring the characters to life on screen when he couldn’t stop thinking about the novel of the same name by Rosa Liksom. Watch the exclusive video interview above.
“I found the novel very cinematic,” Kuosmanen explains. “I read it 10 years ago when it was published, but at that time I had doubts. There was potential for a great film, but there were also so many things we should leave out and I didn’t know how to do it. But then every time I stepped on a train, especially when I was in Russia, I started to think about that book. I read it again and it didn’t leave me alone.”
Although the plot is simple for the Oscar contender, Kuosmanen was struck by the human component of the story and the encounter between two people of different backgrounds who are able to find similarities in one another. Laura (Seidi Haarla) is a Finnish student longing to be taken seriously for her intellect. Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov) is a Russian miner who drinks too much and says exactly what’s on his mind. On a train out of Moscow, they are forced to get to know each other. “The Russian landscape and this encounter between these two characters was the core of our film,” Kuosmanen says.
“In the beginning they’re hiding behind these roles,” he explains. “The role of a Russian man and the role of an arrogant student. It’s not their truth. When they start to trust each other…little by little they get more connected. Ljoha is always ready to act. He’s always like, ‘Let’s go! Let’s try.’ Compared to Laura’s state of mind, she has more of a romantic mindset. You’re hoping something and dreaming something, but you never really get the fulfillment of life because you’re always dreaming of something better. Or you would like to be a better version of yourself than you are.”
The most complex part of shooting the film was the limited space on the train. “The biggest difficulty as a director was to stay in a different compartment than the actors,” Kuosmanen says. “I couldn’t be in the same space with them. I had to direct through the monitor and that is something I really didn’t want to do. It changes the way I’m directing. I’m focusing on the wrong things when I’m watching the monitor. I have to treat the actors like objects on the frame, but I think it’s better to be in the same space and see them as living human beings. But there was no space.”
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