You wouldn’t expect Marilyn to be found anywhere in Compartment No. 6, a Finnish movie about a young student forced to keep company with a foul-mouthed Russian miner on a long train journey to the Arctic Circle. (And if you did find Marilyn, you wouldn’t expect her to be quoted correctly.)
But that’s just what occurs in the first scene of Juho Kuosmanen’s latest movie, which takes place before the journey begins, at an artsy house party in late 1990s, post-Glasnost Moscow. As our heroine Laura (Seidi Harrla) arrives, she already seems nervous and ill-at-ease. She is greeted by an older woman, Irina (Dinara Drukarova), who is entertaining the guests with a word game.
Irina then asks Laura (in Russian) who wrote this line: ‘Only parts of us will ever touch parts of others.’ A nonplussed Laura makes a guess: ‘Anna Akhmatova?’ referring to the iconic Russian poet, exiled during the Soviet purges. Irina shrugs: ‘Pretty close.’ Another guest then corrects Laura’s pronunciation, in a classic case of mansplaining. (How many languages does he speak, I wonder?)
Unsurprisingly, Laura is embarrassed – but a gleeful Irina prolongs her agony by repeating the line in English. Finally she reveals the answer – ‘Marilyn Monroe‘ – in a breathy, flirtatious tone, and her guests all laugh. A sheepish Laura looks down, and after a half-hearted attempt to smile, she walks away.
If this scene could be inserted into a Monroe movie, it would surely be All About Eve. We soon learn that Irina is Laura’s professor – and lover – who has recently dropped out of a planned trip to visit the ancient petroglyphs in the remote port town of Urmansk, prompting Laura to make the voyage alone. (I was also reminded of Marilyn’s own struggle to be taken seriously, only to be mocked as a ‘dumb blonde.’)
Mark Asch considers the scene in his review for Little White Lies…
“Early in the film, Irina quotes Marilyn Monroe: ‘Only parts of us will ever touch only parts of others.’ This is fairly maudlin and telegraphed, really, for a movie about fleeting connections and misjudged first impressions, but it’s also an appropriate table-setter for a film that – through both characters – explores the problems of self-expression in a foreign language or context, the way that your limited knowledge or comfort or social capital in a given milieu shrinks the aperture that connects you to anyone or anything else.”
Spoken out of context, Marilyn’s words might seem ‘maudlin and telegraphed.’ When read in its original form, however, the quote becomes more compelling. It is the opening line of an undated poem published in the 2010 book, Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters.
“Her private poetry — fragmentary, poem-like texts scribbled in notebooks and on loose-leaf paper, published for the first time — reveals a complex, sensitive being who peered deeply into her own psyche and thought intensely about the world and other people,” Maria Popova commented on literary blog The Marginalian. “What these texts bespeak, above all, is the tragic disconnect between a highly visible public persona and a highly vulnerable private person, misunderstood by the world, longing to be truly seen.”
Compartment No. 6 is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming platforms.