- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2003

“The Cuckoo” is cuckoo for an intoxicating myth: that of the noble savage, the pre-moral hero who lived a simple, uninhibited, eco-friendly life way back when — before civilization came along and spoiled everything.

She’s Lappish in this movie, written and directed by the Russian Alexander Rogozhkin, but Anni-Kristiina Juuso, the first-time actress and native Laplander who portrays her, would prefer if we called her people — Europe’s aborigines — Sami.

In “The Cuckoo,” a Laplander, um, make that Sami, is caught in the modern crossfire of World War II, the history of which is a tortured saga for Finland, the setting for the film.

Mr. Rogozhkin’s Russian audience probably didn’t need a historical back story, but we non-Eurasians could use a quick brush up: The Soviets invaded Finland and then Germany did, too.

The Finns ended up siding with the Nazis to repel the eventually victorious commies. How’s that for a Hobson’s choice?

Anti-war politics and humanism bubble to the surface of the deceptively simple layers of “The Cuckoo,” but Mr. Rogozhkin is no Oliver Stone. He’s more interested in the micro than the macro of war.

He’s interested in how it might affect, say, three randomly grouped people who can’t understand one word the other is saying: two with national loyalties subject to secret pacts and treaties that don’t get announced in the wilderness, and one who couldn’t care less.

Anni, as Miss Juuso’s character, too, is called, was living an idyllic, if seasonally rugged, existence in Finland’s northern Lapland, when two refugees of the expiring war descend on her lakeside plot where she herds reindeer and sleeps and cooks in a small wooden frame known in interior Asia as a yurt.

Her first find is a middle-aged Russian (Viktor Bychkov), who, by luck of an active bladder, narrowly escaped the brunt of a fighter-plane attack that killed his Soviet captors, who thought his poems subversive and were trundling him to a court martial.

Watching the bombing through a rifle scope was Veiko, a young sniper (Ville Haapasalo) shackled to a boulder by fellow Finns who suspected him of pacifism and left him for dead. They had stuffed him in a Nazi jacket, a veritable “shoot me” sign for the many Russians in the area.

Through industry and ingenuity, the hapless Veiko frees himself from the rock and wanders over to Anni’s hut, where she had nursed the Russki back to life with reindeer hemoglobin, one of several folk miracles that Mr. Rogozhkin expects us to take at face value.

At chez Anni, the trio speaks Russian, Sami and Finnish, and Mr. Rogozhkin uses the Babel factor to brilliant comic effect. It wouldn’t be accurate to say they talk in circles; they talk right past each other, and we get to delight in their language barrier by reading all the misunderstood banter in clean, conversational English.

Veiko, who had been taking a degree in Sweden before the fighting started, loves great books and never wanted anything to do with the war. Ivan, the Russian, who’s older, suspicious and jaded, thinks he’s a closet fascist.

For her part, Anni, whose conscripted husband has been gone for the duration of the war, doesn’t know from politics and is happy to have a couple of strapping men around the house to do, ahem, chores.

The cross-cultural trio reaches a modus vivendi — Veiko builds a sauna, Ivan picks mushrooms — and then a leafleting prop-plane crashes onto the scene.

The war’s over; the Finns and Sovs are allies, and Ivan is placated but not before plugging a bullet into Veiko’s chest.

Why did it take a piece of paper of governmental provenance to change Ivan’s mind? asks Mr. Rogozhkin. Isn’t it ironic that two men who were both betrayed by their own countrymen couldn’t communicate their mutual bond?

The idea here isn’t so much internationalism as it is sub- or pre-nationalism. Mr. Rogozhkin conveniently forgets that it took a civilization with factories and bombs and guns to defeat Nazism, which drew from its own stupid noble-savage myths about those “rootless cosmopolitans,” the Jews.

Ah, just forget this weighty business; “The Cuckoo” is too gentle, funny and clever for that.

There’s nary a peep from a sparse soundtrack and the vistas are bleak, but the three lead players, with the impossible job of gelling the oddest of dialogues, make “The Cuckoo” crackle like good live theater.


TITLE: “The Cuckoo”

RATING: PG-13 (Violence; sexual themes; brief nudity)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Alexander Rogozhkin. Produced by Segei Selyanov. Cinematography by Andrei Zhegalov. Original music by Dmitry Pavlov.

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes, in Russian, Finnish and Sami with English subtitles.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide