on August 30, 2002 by Ed Scheid
“Cuckoo” is an unconventional film set during World War II in which the three main characters cannot understand each other's language. In 1944, Finland had been an ally of Nazi Germany. Veiko (Ville Haapasalo), a Finn, is distrusted and abandoned by German soldiers. After being forced wear a German uniform to further endanger him to Russian troops, he is chained to a rock. Before escaping, Veiko views Ivan (Viktor Bychkov), a Russian captain who is under arrest by Soviet military police. Russian planes accidentally bomb the military vehicle taking Ivan, killing his captors.

Anni (Anni-Kristiina Juuso) is a Lapp reindeer farmer. Her husband was drafted four years earlier and has never returned. Anni is burying the dead Russian soldiers when she finds that Ivan, though severely wounded, is still alive. She takes him back to her wooden hut to nurse him to health. Veiko arrives at Anni's farm looking for tools to remove his shackles. He wants to return home but stays at Anni's isolated farm for protection from approaching soldiers.

None of the three knows the others language, leading to a variety of complications. (Subtitles translate all the languages.) The screenplay ingeniously sets up the misunderstandings due to the language barriers, as when Anni tries to convince Ivan that the toadstools that he's proudly picked will make him ill. Writer/director Alexander Rogozhkin deftly combines humor, like Anni's sarcastic and sexual comments to the men that neither understands, with the underlying tension that Ivan mistakenly considers Veiko a Nazi enemy. Veiko is unaware of this hostility. Not being with a man in four years, Anni is attracted to the younger Veiko, making Ivan jealous.

The excellent performances of the lead actors bring out the different sides of the ever-changing relationship among the trio. In her film debut, Juuso (who is a reindeer herder) gives Anni an extremely appealing feistiness and resourcefulness that makes her the dominant personality. Rogozhkin has made a fascinating and accomplished film that leads to a gripping climax involving Lapp rituals. Starring Anni-Kristiina Juuso, Ville Haapasalo and Viktor Bychkov. Directed and written by Alexander Rogozhkin. Produced by Sergei Selyanov. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. Russian-, Finnish- and Lapp-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 104 min

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