Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB
Original Title: Hytti nro 6
Finland/Russia/Estonia/Germany, 2021. Elokuvayhtiö Oy Aamu. Screenplay by Andris Feldmanis, Juho Kuosmanen, Livia Ulman, based on the novel by Rosa Liksom. Cinematography by Jani-Petteri Passi. Produced by Emilia Haukka, Jussi Rantamäki. Production Design by Kari Kankaanpää. Costume Design by Jannus Vahtra. Film Editing by Jussi Rautaniemi.
Road movies are a natural cinematic genre, their allegory can easily be abused by lazy writing and direction, and train travel is the most cinematic of all modes of transport, allowing for the existence of dramatic interaction while accommodating the necessary forward movement of film narrative through time. Director Juho Kuosmanen takes these factors and never allows them to reduce the experience of his wonderful film to anything banal or overly familiar, sublimating his protagonist’s experience of personal growth into a tale of adventure in the frozen wilds of northern Russia. In this expert adaptation of the 2011 novel by Rosa Liksom, Laura (Seidi Haarla) is a Finnish archaeology student who is improving her Russian language skills in Moscow, hopelessly in love with glamorous literature professor Irina (Dinara Drukarova), with whom she had planned a trip to the northern outpost of Murmansk to see the geological wonder of the petroglyphs. Irina has had to cancel because of work and Laura, in a burst of false pride and naïve whimsy, decides to go on her own, boarding her train, entering her cabin and discovering that she will have to share it with an obnoxious Russian bro named Vadim (Yuriy Borisov). He is drunk and in her face before she can barely set her rucksack down, so she tries to change cabins but is met with disinterest by the stone-faced porter (who can’t even hand out a teabag without a lecture), then considers getting off the train at St. Petersburg and returning to Moscow before throwing up her hands and just letting the voyage take her without complaint. The lengthy trek to the northern port includes two overnight stops before reaching her final destination, and after a few haphazard exchanges, something magical happens between Laura and Vadim, a sense of camaraderie and friendship that is first sparked by their interactions with other passengers, then develops through the time they spend at various stops off the train.
Their intimacy is briefly threatened when she meets a fellow Finn and invites him to hang out in their cabin, and then upon arrival in Murmansk, Laura discovers that she has come in the wrong season to see the petroglyphs, but leans on her new friendship in her determination to achieve her goal. Cultural details are a forceful atmosphere in this endlessly surprising and deeply enjoyable film, you feel like you have actually gone somewhere as you watch the weather get wilder and the landscapes grow larger outside the train windows, at the same time that the distance from her lover makes Laura wonder if she is more invested than she needs to be in a woman who won’t take her phone calls whenever she has a break from travel. It’s possible that Kuosmanen wants to tell us about our inability to get along in a world overwhelmed by communication done mostly through secondary technology (which this film, possibly a period piece, includes very little of), keeping us from actually connecting; the inspirational relationship at the heart of the story never feels like a lecture, so regardless of whether or not it’s intentionally a message picture, it’s a magnificent one.
Cannes Film Festival Award: Grand Jury Prize
European Film Award Nominations: Best European Film; Best European Actor (Yuriy Borisov); Best European Actress (Seidi Harlaa)
Golden Globe Award Nomination: Best Foreign Language Film
Toronto International Film Festival: 2021