DRAMA; 1hr 47min (Russian with subtitles)
STARRING: Seidi Haaria, Yuri Borisov
All aboard: Haaria and Borisov
Travel can be an internal voyage, too, as Finnish archaeology student Laura (Haaria) is literally on track to realise when she boards a train in 1990s Moscow for a trip to the Arctic Circle. Laura has ancient petroglyphs in her sights, prehistoric rock carvings being catnip to a devotee of all things bygone. Her coquettish lover, literature professor Irina (Dinara Drukarova), is supposed to be along for the historical ride as well, but after Irina bails (commitment issues, etc), Laura must share her cramped compartment with a graceless Russian miner (Borisov as Lyokha) all the way to Murmansk.
The marriage of opposites gets off to a terrible start on the first night when the blind-drunk Lyokha demands to know if Laura is a prostitute (to put it politely). The Orient Express this ain’t, and the chilly terrain outside is equally enticing. But as the miles clack and rock, the temperatures plummet and the petroglyphs start to seem impossibly distant, Laura and Lyokha find their peculiar groove. Her dawning awareness of his essential kindness is mirrored by him inching, crab-like, towards a willingness to trust, with the bulk of this skittish voyage of discovery unfolding inside a tin tube in which swinging a proverbial cat would probably prove to be fatal.
Claustrophobic spaces are a visual risk, but director and co-writer Juho Kuosmanen’s adaptation of Rosa Liksom’s 2011 novel is a triumph of restraint, framing the squeezy nook as a reflection of the emotions unfolding within it. While ugly and oppressive at first, the compartment warms by degrees into a refuge that mirrors the characters’ transformation. As they approach their far-flung destination, you almost don’t want them to arrive.