Sean and Dylan Penn’s scenes together are the heart of the film, and watching the two of them converse, you see one actor having a breakthrough—and it isn’t Sean. Covering a range of ages and phases in Jennifer’s life, Dylan proves to be a moving and multifaceted performer. It’s a pity she’s playing opposite her dad, who badly needs a director to say no to every smirk and raised eyebrow; with each tic, he undermines his own material. He may well have been going for a sleazy-salesman vibe, but in close-up he looks more like a vivified chunk of leather with facial hair (and a distracting succession of ‘dos).
Despite a striking, mildly grainy look (it was shot on film), the style of “Flag Day” is also all over the map. It’s possible the 1975 scenes are supposed to reflect Jennifer’s idealization of her childhood, but the way Penn interweaves rural scenery and overwritten voice-over, they play more like his attempt to remake “Days of Heaven.” This not the context for that brand of poetry.
Also in competition, “Compartment No. 6” is the Finnish director Juho Kuosmanen’s first feature since “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki,” which won the top prize in the festival’s Un Certain Regard section in 2016. But it takes place not in Finland but in Russia, where Laura (Seidi Haarla), a Finnish student with an interest in archaeology, is living in Moscow. She’s supposed to take a trip to see the petroglyphs in Murmansk with her landlord and lover, Irina (Dinara Drukarova), who pointedly introduces Laura to others as her “Finnish friend.” But Irina decides to stay behind. Whenever Laura calls her from stops along the slow-moving journey (it’s still the payphone era), Irina is bad about picking up, or quick to get off the phone. There is giving your girlfriend a hint, and then there is literally shipping her off to the Arctic Circle.
Laura ends up sharing a train compartment with Ljoha (Yuriy Borisov), a boisterous, ribald miner who appears as mismatched with her as he could possibly be. He’s going to Murmansk for work and doesn’t comprehend her desire to go to such a remote place to see rock carvings. And from this setup, you might expect “Compartment No. 6” to turn into an odd-couple comedy. What’s initially frustrating, and ultimately endearing, about the film is that it refuses to go that route, or even to be especially funny. Kuosmanen is after something more bittersweet and elusive, a story of two people who learn to trust each other because they are given the time do so—and because there are few others who have the patience for them.