Juho Kuosmanen • Director of Compartment No. 6
“I always like to remember a good rule that some wise film person said: try to lie as little as possible”
by Jan Lumholdt
- CANNES 2021: The Finnish director talks us through his latest effort, which follows his 2016 Un Certain Regard-winning The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki
Following his 2016 Un Certain Regard-winning success The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki [+see also:
interview: Juho Kuosmanen
film profile], Finland’s Juho Kuosmanen takes one more step up the auteur ladder with his new film, Compartment No. 6 [+see also:
interview: Juho Kuosmanen
film profile], entered in this year’s main competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
Cineuropa: What attracted you to Rosa Liksom’s novel and made you want to turn it into a film?
Juho Kuosmanen: I think the starting points were the scenery, the train, Russia and the human connection between these two very different characters. The book has a Finnish protagonist, so as a Finn, I feel I have the licence to do it. I was fascinated to be able to make a film on Russian soil; it’s a country I’ve visited many times, also by train, to Saint Petersburg, to Moscow, and even to Ulaanbaatar, so I got to see a lot of it. I like the way the country looks, I like the people, I like trains, and I really like train films.
Speaking of Ulaanbaatar, this is actually where Laura, the protagonist, goes in the book. This is one of the things you change in the film, as she goes to Murmansk instead. Why this alteration?
Well, I like to say that Compartment No. 6 the film is inspired by Compartment No. 6 the book, rather than being an adaptation of it. For Murmansk, I felt the coldness and the proximity to the sea make it a place where it’s easy to breathe. I felt that if we ended the film a long way away in Mongolia, even if there are huge and impressive landscapes, it’s mainly sand, and I felt that there should be lots of air and light at the end, something refreshing. We scouted Ulaanbaatar in the preparations, but we also took a look at the Murmansk route to see if it could pose as something that looked like the Trans-Siberian Railway. But then I just felt: if we’re shooting this route, why should we pretend it’s another one? To me, the story doesn’t deal with any specific place; it deals with a long journey. And I always like to remember a good rule that some wise film person said: try to lie as little as possible.
How easy was it to get permission to shoot on the train, at the stations and so on?
It was incredibly hard. Not for me, personally, during shooting, but for the location manager, the line producer and their colleagues. They had to work with the Russian train authorities, asking for permission to rent the train, to use their tracks, to get them to schedule it for us. In the beginning, the Russian producers advised against doing it this way: they thought the idea was downright stupid, which I totally understand from their point of view. But from my perspective, I’m not fond of control. I like to have a plan, but then I also like to see what I can get out of that plan in the moment.
The story in the book takes place in the Soviet era, but you have moved it forward into the Russian one. Why this change?
Again: try to lie as little as possible. We would have had to build Soviet scenery, but this way, we could just show things as they basically look today. Also, the book, I feel, deals with the Soviet Union as a state of mind, rather than a country, so I also wanted to avoid this geographical-political frame, which I think would have been distracting. What I want you to look at are these two human beings, without any topical comments on time or place.
And the conductors are as grumpy now as they were back then, by the look of things?
Yeah, pretty much. But it’s changing. Recently, I bought a ticket in the Moscow Metro – and the ticket person actually smiled at me!
Is there a common denominator in the stories you choose to tell?
Humour, I think. And this love for real people, who are clumsy and imperfect, perhaps. No opinions, no message, but this is the way I see the world and how I show it. I will show it again in my next film, but in a different way.
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