Winner of the Grand Prix of the Cannes Film Festival 2021 (tied with “A hero”), Juho Kuosmanen offers us a journey full of gentleness and humanity on which his director, the Finnish Juho Kuosmanen returns.
If the Palme d’Or of the 74th Cannes Film Festival has been awarded to a shock, Titanium, it is the softness and tenderness that dominate in the Grand Prix: Compartment N ° 6, crowned ex-aequo with A hero of Asghar Farhadi. Third feature film by Finnish Juho Kuosmanen, noticed with Olli Mäki in 2016, the latter takes us by train to Russia.
But the trip turns out to be full of surprises, for her heroine Laura (Seidi Haarla) as well as for the viewer. The latter will have the feeling of having traveled in a cocoon on arrival, thanks to this film which the director told us about when he returned to France (in Paris this time), a few days before its release in rooms.
AlloCiné: How did you discover the novel from which the film is inspired? And why did you want to adapt it?
Juho kuosmanen : The writer, Rosa Liksom, is well known in Finland. And I had read his novels before because I liked his writing a lot. When this one was released in 2011, I read it immediately. It’s a very cinematographic novel that took place on a train, and I liked it. Just like this story between these two human beings who meet. Many elements made that I saw the interest of adapting it in film.
The process took a very long time, and at times I wanted to drop this idea. But every time I took the train, it kept coming back. There were a lot of elements in the novel so I didn’t know at first how I was going to be able to deal with it all. But I couldn’t forget it, and it kept coming back to my mind.
If the basic novel was very cinematic, what did you change as a co-writer to make its story your own?
We deleted a lot of things, because there were several periods in Laura’s life, especially her childhood. We preferred to focus only on the train journey. There were also changes when we did the scouting, and the route is not the same to begin with.
In the novel, we go to Mongolia on the Trans-Siberian. In the film, it’s from Moscow to Murmansk. There were also changes to the characters and the era: the book is set in the 80s in the Soviet Union, while our story is in the 90s. In the late 90s, even if that is not very clear.
If we are looking for simplicity or ease, it is because we are not really in the film we are making.
We made so many changes that, in the end, I asked Rosalie Liksom if it could still be said to be an adaptation. It might have been fairer to say that we were inspired by it. But she didn’t want to know anything and didn’t read anything. She told me to do what I wanted because it was my movie.
When she discovered him in Cannes in July, we were surprised because afterwards she came to tell me that I hadn’t changed anything. I plunged back into it after the festival, knowing that I had underlined, surrounded by moments from the novel. And I realized that there were still quite a few elements that I had taken for my film. But it all got mixed up in my head, because I thought it was from the script, from the movie. It was unconscious.
You mentioned the scouts: how much of an impact does that have on the writing and the storytelling in a film that relies on a journey like “Compartment N ° 6”?
The locations have played a huge role, yes. Because the landscapes are very important. When I write a screenplay, it’s more notes that I take. When I do the scouting, I see the places where I want to shoot, that I have to put it in the film. This is really very important to me and it allows me to determine where a scene can take place.
And since, at the beginning, the heroine had to go to Mongolia before her trip was between Moscow and Murmansk, you couldn’t lie, because it would have been too complicated. So that’s also why the route has changed. We still wondered if the content of the film would change if the destination changed. But not so much in the end. And it gave us the opportunity to use a little more of the landscapes and views that were there.
We imagine that, for a director, filming in a train brings its share of difficulties.
It was difficult and complicated, it’s true. But it’s always complicated to make a movie. And I think that if we are looking for simplicity or ease, it is because we are not really in it. It was complicated because it had to be. But I couldn’t even be in the same compartment as the characters, I had to be in the next one because there was absolutely no room.
There were the two actors, the cinematographer and his assistant, and I was next to it. In compartment 7. I could only watch them through the monitor, and that’s what was complicated. Because I want to see the actors in real life, and not through a screen, to be able to feel more and feel what is really going on. While on a monitor, they become like objects. The feeling is not the same.
“Compartment N ° 6” begins as a love story before changing direction. Was it to mark a break with your previous film, “Olli Mäki”, which was a true love story?
I think it’s still a bit of a love story because there is. But it’s not romantic love. Rather a connection, a bond that is created between two human beings. And that’s what interested me in this film.
It is true that we feel, on your part, a real love for human beings in general.
That’s my goal, yes. When I’m looking for subjects or actors, I always want to find something that I like about these people, about these subjects. It may even be their clumsiness. I am looking for the human sides. What is important for me in cinema is precisely to take things that are imperfect.
There is always this imperfection that exists in life. And people who are not perfect are not always seen with a benevolent gaze. Me, that’s what I want to do with my films. I want to shed some light behind the advertisements, because there are lots of fields that are not very well known at all, and that’s what interests me.
People who are not perfect are not always seen with a benevolent gaze. Me, that’s what I want to do with my films.
The main character’s journey revolves around pteroglyphs. Why were they important in relation to the themes you develop here?
There are several meanings with these cave paintings. Normally, we think that whatever comes a long way and lasts is what gives value to things. This is the case here but, as everything works by contrasts, there is also the ephemeral side which is important. They are also symbols of immortality and, at the same time, of this fear of death. Everything is connected.
The character goes in search of something immortal. Something that lasts, that is permanent. And it is by facing fleeting moments that she understands life. It’s the same with her camera: she tries to capture, to record the moment, as if she wanted to stop the movement. Which is impossible. It is therefore a good thing that it is being stolen from him.
In Cannes, the French public particularly reacted to this song that you use several times: “Voyage, voyage” by Desireless. Why did you choose it?
She went with the idea of the film I wanted to make. While having this disco side, entertaining tube. But there is still a kind of sadness a little melancholy in it. And those two things were in this song. When you listen to this kind of tube in the company of other people, it is not the same as when you are alone, on a trip. They are not the same feelings.
Interview by Maximilien Pierrette in Paris on October 27, 2021