Estonian co-production 'Compartment No. 6' takes Cannes Grand Prix

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Scene from 'Compartment No. 6', with Seidi Haarla (Laura) and Yuriy Borisov (Vadim). Source: Movie still/Cannes Festival.

Estonian co-production 'Compartment No. 6' has won the prestigious Grand Prix award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, jointly with Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's movie 'Ghahreman'.

The movie is an Estonian-Finnish-Russian-German collaboration and follows a long distance train journey across northwestern Russia.

Unlike other Russian-rail-based movies, such as "Transsiberian", the film is shot virtually entirely from the perspective of just one carriage compartment accommodating somewhat of an odd couple.

"Compartment No. 6" (Estonian: "Kupee nr 6", Finnish: "Hytti nro 6"), directed by Finn Juho Kuosmanen, had an Estonian producer in Riina Sildos, while two screenwriters, Livia Ulman and Andris Feldmanis are also Estonian.

Sildos said: "We are infinitely happy because something completely unprecedented happened in our lives today – we won one of the most important awards, at the world's top cinema festival".

"This is a crazy victory for Estonian cinema and Estonian filmmakers, we are on top of the world," she added.

From left, 'Compartment No. 6' screenwriters Livia Ulman and Andris Feldmanis, and producer Riina Sildos, in Cannes. Source: Erlend Staub

The joint award, for "Compartment No. 6" and "Ghahreman" ("Hero"), was presented by Oliver Stone.

Based on the book of the same name by Rosa Liksom – itself a winner of Finland's top literary award 10 years ago – "Compartment No. 6" premiered on July 10 at Cannes, in the main competition program. Its Estonian premiere is slated for the fall.

The movie

It's the 1990s, and clunky mobile phones and walkmans abound as Finnish archaeology student Laura (Seidi Haarla) is stuck in a sleeper compartment with the boorish Russian skinhead Vadim (Yuriy Borisov), in an over 1,200-mile train journey from Moscow to the Arctic port of Murmansk, notes John Bleasdale on the British Film Institute's (BFI) site.

Laura's trip, to visit prehistoric petroglyphs (cave paintings), was not intended to be a solo one initially; only her former flame Irina (Dinara Drukarova) had bailed, leaving Irina to brave the long-distance journey via Russian rail alone. Laura and Vadim do gradually warm to one another, though...

Several Estonians worked on the movie

ERR's culture portal reports that the movie also garnered special recognition from the jury as a film that: "Sensitively talks about the meeting of two vulnerable people. They are so different that they do not even choose each other as neighbors, but still overcome loneliness together."

Other Estonians on the movie production team include designer Jaanus Vahtra, make-up artist Liina Pihel, director's first and second assistants Ralf Siig and Maria Kljukina, and executive producer Anneli Savitski.

The movie was the result of a collaboration involving Russia and Germany, as well as Estonia and Finland.

Juho Kuosmanen, 42, had already bagged the Cannes "Un Certain Regard" side program in 2016 with his movie "The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki" (Finnish: "Hymyilevä mies").

John Bleasdale at the BFI notes the movie is mostly seen from the perspective of the train's carriage and makes excellent use of handheld cameras to achieve that effect.

"What we see of Russia is largely station platforms or weather and, aside from some stopovers, it is mostly seen from the train," he writes.

Culture minister Anneli Ott (Center) had been in Cannes for the movie premiere.

The Cannes festival site is here.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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