My Journey to the Oscars: Juho Kuosmanen, ‘Compartment 6’ Director

In a new series, Variety meets the directors of the films shortlisted for the International Feature Film Oscar to discuss their journey to the awards, what they’ve learned so far and what caught them off guard.

A crush that quickly became a word-of-mouth hit at Cannes, Juho Kuosmanen’s “Compartment No. 6” follows Finnish academic Laura (Seidi Haarla) who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Russian miner Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov) in a train from Moscow to Murmansk, a city in northwestern Russia. The Finnish film, which drew parallels with the Before Sunrise trilogy, was quickly picked up at Cannes for major territories, including North America, by Sony Pictures Classics.

What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Oscar for Best International Feature Film?

It means a lot. This is my second feature. My first film was “The Happiest Day of Olli Mäki’s Life”. It was also Finland’s Oscar entry, but it wasn’t shortlisted, so we never got that far.

What has been the most difficult aspect of your campaign so far?

Being in Finland while everything is happening in the United States is quite frustrating.

Although you were shortlisted in the international features category, the best image category was devoid of non-English language features. “Parasite” (2019) was the first winner in history. Do you feel that international voices are siled in media and film criticism?

I do not know. I am very much into Asian and European cinema and for me these films have always been at the heart of my interests. It doesn’t look like something that’s on the side. But it’s also easy to realize that anything in English has a bigger audience and a bigger market. I think it’s getting better, though. In Finnish cinema, you can see more and more films from outside Europe and these films are more recognized in the United States and the United Kingdom as well as “foreign language” or “international” films, which are not it doesn’t matter what they’re called. Orientation is good.

Are there ways to improve this process as it relates to awards season?

I’m not an expert on this at all and I don’t know how things work. I’m just a director and I don’t know that part of the industry very well.

How do you manage the finances needed for an awards campaign?

I don’t know how small films manage that don’t have a big success at festivals. I felt that strongly with my first film; we had a very small distributor. Even though the premiere was in Cannes and we won the Un Certain Regard award, I still felt [getting exposure] wasn’t just about the movie. We needed muscles to attract attention.

When trying to get mainstream audiences to watch an international feature film, the focus seems to be on the length of a film, but when something like “Avengers: Endgame” is three hours long, Marvel fans are delighted and say they could go longer if they wanted to. Is it right?

I am also surprised at the length of the films. Especially in mainstream movies, like the new James Bond movie. This is more common in auteur films; it’s not really unusual. It’s weird because people can watch six episodes of their favorite TV show, but if they were to see a Lav Diaz movie, which is like eight or 11 hours long, it’s like, “No, no! I don’t!” But then you can be there watching episode after episode. It’s about redefining the idea of ​​what’s entertaining and what’s not. I haven’t seen yet “Drive My Car” but I’m sure it’s awesome and I’ll enjoy every minute of it. People still have this idea that art house movies or international movies aren’t that entertaining. I don’t understand where it came from; I think it’s just an attitude rather than something based on facts.

The Academy favored European countries, with Italy and France earning three times more than a country like Japan. How can we encourage greater diversity from all countries of the world?

By giving these films space, attention and more headlines. To focus them. It’s also linked to trends: certain countries become fashionable and that doesn’t mean that these films are better than neighboring countries. But I think success sparks interest. If we see a few Romanian films awarded at Cannes, we start getting interested in Romanian films and we start wondering what else is there. This has been the case in the Nordic countries as Finland has always been behind Sweden and Denmark. Swedish and Danish films and TV series are widely recognized and seen and arouse great interest. But Finnish films have always been in the background. But now, over the last few years, as we’ve had success at festivals, I’m starting to see that we’re actually now gaining that worldwide interest. It’s not necessarily that the movies got better. It is linked to the success of the previous films. If the industry wants to change that and give more space to diversity, they should really push these movies to help them win awards and get attention.

You represent your country to a US awards body (although there are international voters). How do you feel about being this representative?

I think it’s fun. Obviously, it’s a great honor. A few years ago, when I was younger, I was really against that kind of competition in art. Now I started thinking about that as part of the show, that it’s not that bad. And it’s not really who’s better than the other, it’s just like a way to get attention. And representing Finland, I like that. It’s like playing a sports figure in the Olympics.

Could we see a sequel to “Compartment n°6”?

No, I would love to do another movie with Seidi and Yuriy, together or separately. I think they are amazing actors. And I would also like to make another film in Russia; It was a great adventure. But with these characters, no, that was it.

Why is that?

I think they did everything they could. They had that moment, and it’s gone. But it still exists in their minds, and there is no turning back. It was their story.

I was also wondering if maybe the character of Ljoha is gay in the movie?

It’s something we thought about while writing the script, and then we decided to keep it open. Because the whole idea of ​​sexuality is not black or white. I don’t even know if she was lesbian or bisexual. Our goal was to really see through these cultural identities which, in a way, are also genders, and at some point sexuality as well. It’s something you’ve learned and it’s part of your cultural identity. In the end, when they struggle in the snow and play like children, those identities no longer exist – they’re just two human beings who feel a strong connection. They are not defined by their nationality, gender or sexuality.

What is your next project?

It is a silent short film.

About Monty S. Maynard

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