Having just left the world premiere of Juho Kousmanen‘s Compartment No. 6 — the story of a sensitive Finnish archeology enthusiast (Yuliya Aug) and a brusque Russian miner (Yuriy Borisov) who wind up sharing a second-class cabin on a long train trip shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union — I suspect that the 2021 Cannes Film Festival has its first serious contender for the Palme d’Or, and that Finland has its strongest shot yet at landing a second best international feature Oscar nomination (19 years after Aki Kaurismaki‘s The Man Without a Past).
I say this for several reasons.
First, the quality of the film. As The Hollywood Reporter‘s David Rooney writes in his review, it’s “a melancholic drama, but also one that’s unexpectedly uplifting in its insights into human solitude and connection… a strange, scrappy film, but in its own way quite beguiling.” Kuosmanen, who won Cannes’ Un Certain Regard prize five years ago for the also excellent The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki, has top-of-the-line filmmaking chops — he really is the heir apparent to Kaurismaki — and they are on full display in this one, the script of which he and two others (Andris Feldmanis and Livia Ulman) adapted from a novel (by Rosa Liksom), and which is essentially a two-hander mostly shot in very tight quarters (not something pulled off well by many other than that guy who made another film about strangers on a train). Compartment No. 6 is not an easy movie to summarize or compare to others, but I would call it something of a cross between the original Rocky (opposites attract) and the Before films (a lot of moving and talking), both of which people can’t help but love. Speaking of which…
Second, the response of the audience. The film engendered a huge response, and not of the merely polite sort accorded to virtually every film that plays at the Palais (roughly five minutes of applause), but one of actual enthusiasm (more like 10 minutes of clapping to the beat of the end-credits, sticking around to hear Kuosmanen address the audience afterwards, etc.).
Third, the jury — whose box I like to peek into — also seemed into it. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jessica Hausner were among those participating in the ovation until the bitter end and seemed very into it.
The jury will, of course, decide the fate of the film at Cannes, and that, in turn, will undoubtedly influence Finland’s decision about which film to submit for the Oscar. Something else that might? Which distributor signs up to release it in the U.S. I would expect a sale soon.