The Cuckoo (2002) / War-Drama
MPAA rated: PG-13 for sexual content and violence
Running time: 99 min.
Cast: Anni-Kristiina Juuso, Ville Haapasalo, Viktor Bychkov
Director: Aleksandr Rogozhkin
Screenplay: Aleksandr Rogozhkin
Review published October 16, 2012
Set in Lapland (Finland), 1944, just before Finland's pulling out of the theater of war during World War II, an odd couple (er, trio) find themselves striving to live together for a spell due to the dire circumstances of the war. A Sami-speaking Lapp woman named Anni (first-timer Juuso) takes in to her cabin an injured Russian captain named Ivan (Bychkov, Peculiarities of the National Fishing) who had been arrested for dissidence against the Soviets and nurses him back to health. Meanwhile, a Finnish sniper named Veikko (Haapasalo, Peculiarities of the National Hunt) who has desired to live a life of pacifism gets dressed up as a Nazi SS by his Finn cohorts and left to defend himself while tethered to a boulder while Russian soldiers are milling about.
After he makes a long escape, he ends up at Anni's house to find a way to remove the remnants of his chains. Now all three, a widowed Lapp looking for any man's affection, a prideful Russian, and an eloquent, educated Finn that the others think is a Nazi thug, must find a way to communicate and get along when neither of them knows what the other is doing or saying, resulting in a serio-comedy of errors.
The Cuckoo is a unique film, period, but also a quality World War II film with a limited scope but powerful message that many things separate people in terms of language, lifestyle, and political outlook, but those pale in comparison to our similarities. Although this trip initially has trouble knowing who each other truly are and what each other are saying, eventually they begin to figure things out, and ultimately emerge in a bond of friendship that naturally happens among good people with common interests that are stronger in motivation than engaging in war activities they have no desire or interest in.
Written and directed by Russian filmmaker Alexsandr Rogozhkin (Checkpoint, Peculiarities of the National Hunt in Winter), and beautifully captured by cinematographer Andrei Zhegalov (The Island, The Turkish Gambit), The Cuckoo is a subtle but affirming anti-war, pro-humanity film that offers well rounded characterizations, multifaceted themes, and a good deal of humor. The cuckoo of the title refers to the name given to a sniper working alone in the war, which is what Veikko is mistaken to be, though it is later revealed to be Anni's other name as well -- though she tends to take in one man at a time in order to save them rather than take them out like a sniper would. Certainly for Anni, she thinks men are better served making love and not war.
While other anti-war films show the horrors of war, Rogozhkin shows the sweetness, kindness and camaraderie that would exist among people if not for having to do what they have no desire to do, or being what they don't desire to be.
©2012 Vince Leo