The Cuckoo Movie Review

The bird to which the title refers is not one of the warbling kind. It applies to a rare individual: a Finnish army sniper in the last days of World War II, considered by his mates to be a coward. Though we're not treated to the conduct that inspired this condemnation among the men of the squad as they plod through a Lapland foest, we see them chain their "cuckoo," Veiko (Ville Haapasalo), to a piton which they deeply anchor to a rock and leave him to fend as well as he can with his rifle, a few cans of food, and some supplies. His task is to free himself before an enemy or wild animal comes along and before the Russian planes scouting the area discover him.

Once his ex-comrades are gone, he tries the obvious: shooting the chain. But the metal is too hefty for his bullets, so a quick escape is out of the question. MacGyver-like, he sets about to employ material within reach, which turns out to be a blast of gunpowder collected from his bullets, and the burning of lichens to gradually wear down the rock with expansion and contraction. It's a credit to the filmmaker's sense of reality that the job is not made to look trivial. In fact, it goes on long enough to exhaust Veiko's food, his strength, and a bit of our patience, though Veiko doesn't lose his confidence for a moment and we get a sense of the man's perseverance.

From his perch atop the rock, with the aid of his rifle scope, he observes traffic on a nearby road. A jeep passes by, with a Soviet officer of the secret police, his driver, and a disgraced Russian captain, Ivan (Victor Bychkov), who is being transported to his court martial. But, the Russian pilots, recognizing an enemy uniform in the vehicle, mistakenly bomb the threesome. Shortly thereafter, a Lapp reindeer farmer who is also a young widow, follows the noise and discovers the three bodies lying on the road. As she prepares to drag them into the woods for burial, she notices that Ivan is showing signs of life.

She drags him to her remote digs to nurse him back to health just about the time Veiko has managed to pull free of the rock and, following her trail, finds the reindeer farm on a tranquil patch of seafront property. And so, brought together are a Finn, a Russian, and a Lapp widow. None speaks the others' language. They talk at one another, deeply misunderstanding and relying on gestures and preconceived ideas about the other's intentions. It's a Tower of Babel reduced at times to comic absurdity, yet certain messages get through. Not the least is the one emanating from the lonely widow who hasn't been near an eligible man for four years and suddenly has her cabin filled by two strapping specimen.

Of the three, Ivan is the most threatening, stubbornly unwilling to lay his hatred for Russians aside in the unexpected proximity to one. Veiko, already accused of being too much of a pacifist, has had enough of war, and is nothing if not cordial and industrious. Self assertive at all times, earthy Anni plays referee, catalyst and widow who appreciates a man around the deer stalls and bedsheets. The language problem is the source of some humor, such as when Anni does her best to warn Ivan not to eat the wild mushrooms he's been gathering, but her Lapp protestations go unheeded by the Russian, and the Lapland version of Montezuma's revenge is the consequence.

All in all, it's a fascinating and sometimes amusing study in accommodation, sometimes imposed, sometimes the result of attraction or repulsion, but steadfastly relying on plausible behavior under challenging circumstances. Commercially, it's an unpretentiously told tale of arthouse appeal and a fresh take on the barriers of communication. It is likely to be most appreciated by those who find drama in the study of unique human experience, such as in a previous Finnish product, The Man Without a Past. The Cuckoo bears a relationship to many another character study that deals with remote survival and modest means, evoking some of the splendid character pieces of Japanese legend, Akira Kurosawa.

Aka Kukushka .

Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

Comments

The Cuckoo Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG-13, 2003

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