Directed by Aleksandr Rogozhkin. Starring Anni-Kristiina Juuso, Ville Haapasalo, Viktor Bychkov. (2002, PG-13, 104 min.)
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Aug. 29, 2003
In these hardscrabble times, the premise of The Cuckoo sounds practically utopian: Two soldiers on opposite sides of a war escape to a reindeer farm in deepest Lapland, where they meet a beautiful and spirited young widow. The surrounding forest is full of magic mushrooms. They have clean water and scrap metal acquired from demolished military hardware. Given that one of the soldiers is Finnish, they soon have a fully operational sauna. It all sounds good, but there are a lot of obstacles (ideological, sexual, linguistic) between the unlikely trio. It’s 1944. Conscripted to fight against the Russians, Pvt. Veiko (Haapasalo) is hale and hardy, but he’s a slipshod, pacifistic soldier and gets chained to a rock by his fellow servicemen as punishment. Meanwhile, Russian Officer Ivan (Bychkov) has been court-martialed for writing anti-Soviet propaganda. Circumstances throw the two together at the rustic homestead of Anni (Juuso), who’s been alone since her husband was drafted. None speaks the others’ languages, though Veiko understands when broody, idealistic Ivan calls him a fascist. And Ivan understands when Anni pulls the younger, buffer Veiko out of the sauna to knock mukluks in her tent. Writer-director Rogozhkin’s point is that human nature is universal, so he puts his characters through their paces: confusion, anger, bitterness, curiosity, and the possibility of acceptance and understanding. The situation – none of the characters understands the others, but the viewer understands them all – is dramatically interesting and nicely acted. Juuso, a naturalistic performer and one of the few members of the Sami ethnic group with formal theatrical training, in particular embodies the qualities of her character. Simple and practical, she tromps around her farm determinedly, seeming more like a brave little soldier than the men do. She abhors war not because of ideology, but because it is wasteful and ridiculous. The film has its problems: Aspects of the plot are confusing, and Rogozhkin’s story is longer on theme than it is on narrative. Just the same, The Cuckoo is a pleasant, often beautiful, and surprisingly lighthearted film that affirms the human traits of resilience and intelligence while clearly denouncing the bellicose tendencies of nations and factions.