The Cuckoo, Кукушка (Russian Title)
a new form of epic
Running Time: 104 minutes
UK Certificate: 12A
Towards the end of the Second World War, Finnish sniper Veiko (Ville Haapasalo) becomes a 'cuckoo', chained by his own side to a rock 'like Prometheus' and dressed in Nazi uniform to force him to fight the advancing Russians to the death. He escapes with suitably Promethean ingenuity, and seeks refuge at the farm of the Sami woman Anni (Anni-Kristina Juuso). Anni has already taken in the wounded Ivan (Viktor Bychkov), a Russian captain who, while on his way to be executed on trumped up charges, was bombed by friendly fire. Veiko is an intellectual and a pacifist, but through one of many misunderstandings, Ivan is convinced that he is a Nazi fascist and so is set on killing him. The survival, however, of both men depends on Anni, and what she has on her mind, not having seen a man for more than four years, is something rather different from war.
Set amid a background of seemingly endless war, and featuring a woman awaiting her husband's return, implacable enemies gradually finding common ground, and even a mystical journey to the Underworld and back, Aleksandr Rogozhkin's 'The Cuckoo' bears all the hallmarks of a classical epic, except that its grand themes of war and peace, life and death, are played out not between massed armies of warriors on the battlefield, but between three characters on an isolated homestead in the north of Finland, none of whom is able to understand the language of the others. The bizarre love (and hate) triangle which ensues is not so much a tragedy of crossed swords as a comedy of crossed purposes, as the three characters threaten, deceive and lust in words whose meanings are inscrutable to all but the speaker and the viewer (who has the privilege of subtitles).
Their surreally incoherent 'dialogue', based on total mutual incomprehension, proves an apt metaphor for all that causes division and strife between men. Yet it is Anni's voice – a voice versed in the business of life, always opposed to war and death, and full of magical incantations passed down from her grandmother – which is made to dominate in the film's optimistically revisionist coda, as we are invited to imagine a new form of epic, sung not by men but by women, and the very different version of heroism which it would celebrate.
It's Got: Understated performances, gentle humour, hauntingly sparse landscapes, strange rituals and lots of misunderstandings.
It Needs: A Finno-Russo-Sami phrase book.
DVD Extras Scene selection; The Making of the Cuckoo (24min, English subtitles), a quality behind-the-scenes documentary filmed on set at the Kolsky peninsula in Sept 2001, accompanied by good interviews with writer/director Aleksandr Rogozhkin, producer Sergei Selianov, DOP Andrei Zhegalov, and the three leads Ville Haapasalo, Anni-Kristina Juuso and Viktor Bychkov (although by an oversight all their names are subtitled in Russian only). Rogozhkin discusses the multiple significances of the films title, Haapasalo tells a relevant anecdote about his grandfather refusing ever to fight again after being offered tea by the Russian enemy, Zhegalov comments on the stark colour composition and the constant but almost imperceptible movement of the camera, and everyone sings the praises of Rogozhkin and declares how well they all got on despite their linguistic and cultural differences in another example of life (barely) mirroring art. There is also an Optimum home entertainment trailer reel of (Since Otar Left, A Thousand Months) DVD Extras Rating: 4/10
Alternatives:Down by Law, Lost in Translation
A gently funny mini-epic whose 'make love not war' message is delivered in three languages at once.