Written for RAF News April 2022
Laura (Seidi Haarla) is a Finnish archaeology student in Russia living with Irina (Dinara Drukarova) her professor-turned-girlfriend. When the two of them are about to set off on a long-distance train from Moscow to Murmansk to see some ancient rock drawings, Irina flakes out, leaving Laura to go it alone.
Aboard the designated compartment on the train, she arrives to meet her brutish Russian cellmate Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov), who immediately pulls out a bottle of vodka and unsheathes a portable cup as though it were a knife. In the blink of an eye, he is wildly drunk and so out of control that Laura fears for her safety. But there’s no swapping carriages according to the icy ticket inspector: she is in it for the long haul.
The confinement of this space is framed and focused in such a way as to create uneasiness and establish a power dynamic, of a predator encircling his prey. Ljoha is muscular and menacing, he has a shaved head and a fixed scowl, though we will glimpse cracks in the facade as we spend more time with him. Through the relationship between Laura and Ljoha in this claustrophobic space, we are offered an idea of what is going on behind the macho ideal associated with Russian men.
Borisov is convincingly intimidating as Ljoha, but is able to let a childishness shine through, as Haarla contends with the many worries surrounding her as a true fish out of water. A strange and inviting chemistry is caught between the two of them as they drift further into the unknown.
Filled with tension but relieved with humour, this is an interesting and intimate film. Through the great performances and style of shooting, it explores a shifting vulnerability, adding depth and context to the much-seen archetypes of beauty and beast.