Finland is tipped for its first Oscar nomination in 20 years in the Best International Film category – with a quirky buddy movie set on a train travelling through the Russian Arctic.
Compartment No.6, by Finnish filmmaker Juho Kuosmanen, shared the runner-up Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It was shown at this week’s Zurich Film Festival in Switzerland and has secured a major US release ahead of an expected Oscar campaign this winter.
Kuosmanen hopes the film will be Finland’s entry to the 2022 Oscars, and as Sony Classics has bought the film for release in the United States.
“They’re ready to invest in an Oscar campaign for the film, it’s also often the best way to market the film and get people to see it,” he says.
If so, it will be Finland’s first nomination for Best International Film since Aki Kaurismäki’s 2002 comedy The Man Without A Past – though he boycotted the ceremony in protest at the American invasion of Iraq.
Shooting the film on a real Russian train was no easy task
The film, based on the 2011 novel by Finnish author Rosa Liksom, was almost entirely filmed on a real locomotive in Russia and made in the Russian language.
It stars Finnish actress Seidi Haarla and Russian actor Yuriy Borisov as Laura and Ljoha, a Finnish intellectual and a drunk Russian miner, forced to share a sleeping car on the long journey from Moscow to Murmansk.
During the long trip, they find they have more in common than they realised.
Critics have acclaimed the film’s humour and the chemistry between the characters Laura and Ljoha, which Kuosmanen describes as “almost a love story, but not a romantic or a sexual one.”
“I had to shoot it on an actual train because I wouldn’t know what to do in a studio,” Kuosmanen told Euronews at Zurich Film Festival.
“I think as a director you can choose the people you work with and the location, and I wanted to go to the real locations as much as possible. So, we went to St. Petersburg and rented a real locomotive, along with three or four train cars.
“We shot some scenes at Vitebsky station in St Petersburg and then we did several 10-12 hour trips each morning from the station. We’d shoot the whole day, and then went to a hotel to sleep and wash, and then film again the next day.”
Renting the train in Russia and getting permission to use the train tracks so they didn’t disturb local public transport was, he says, “a big risk.”
“We didn’t know until the last minute whether we could do it, and the company wouldn’t say how much it would cost to run the train on the tracks, they said they wouldn’t tell us until after we’d filmed it. But we needed to know beforehand, course. I think the production took some big risks. Even finding the right person to give you the filming permit was difficult.”
However, he adds that the difficulties were worth it in the end.
“At least they were adventurous obstacles. The actors really loved the reality of working in reality on a train – they could watch the landscape and they don’t have to watch a green screen and pretend they’re shaking.
“We also felt we went on a journey, we’d always travel by train to the next location and of course it was hard and annoying and there were difficulties, but I don’t really respect things being easy and the idea of making them easier. I think this journey was worth any pain and suffering.”
“I am a Finnish person making a film in Russia and saying ‘this is my image of you’”
One of his proudest moments, he says, was showing the film recently in Russia, and Russian filmmakers pronouncing it “the most Russian film they’d seen” at the event.
“I don’t know what the nationality of this film is really, but I was more nervous than in Cannes because I am a Finnish person making a film in Russia and saying ‘this is my image of you’ - but the feedback was super.”
Despite its critical reception, the filmmaker says he was “shocked” by his runners up prize in Cannes – and thought the organisers might have mistakenly invited him.
Director Spike Lee had accidentally revealed that the French film ‘Titane’ had won the coveted Palme D’Or at the start of the evening, “so that had gone right at the start,” Kuosmanen recalls.
“And as time went on, each prize was given to someone else, and then the Grand Prix was given to ‘A Hero’ by Asghar Farhadi. So, my expectations were really high, then I crashed, and then suddenly my name was called to share the Grand Prix and I was pulled onto stage after this emotional rollercoaster.
“The more I thought about it afterwards, the happier I was about sharing the prize. I prefer sharing to winning, because winning is quite lonely, and if you think about it, cinema is all about sharing. I think it’s especially true after this long, dark period where we couldn’t see films together.”
Compartment No. 6 is showing at the Zurich Film Festival until 3 October 2021. It will be released in Finland on 29 October 2021 – other international release dates TBA.