starring Anni-Christina Juuso, Ville Haapasalo, Viktor Bychkov
written and directed by Aleksandr Rogozhkin
by Bill Chambers As with the ineffably similar No Man's Land, Danis Tanovic's "Twilight Zone"-esque morality play in which a Bosnian and a Serb duke it out while the dead body of a Serb soldier threatens to detonate a landmine between them, when you're done watching The Cuckoo, you're done thinking about it as well. Both films make their points too baldly--the stress of analysis and the joy of drawing conclusions are pleasures you won't much experience after a viewing of The Cuckoo despite its having the pretense of being profound. An awkwardly-translated quote that writer-director Aleksander Rogozhkin provided for the film's North American pressbook--"I don't write scripts, I write novels for cinema... I could just note 'Sniper Veiko shoots from a rifle,' but it will be an absolutely different approach if I write 'Sniper Veiko shoots from old Austrian rifle, with optical sight rifle'"--is telling: he's not a man who likes to leave many doors open to interpretation.
"Cuckoos," we're told, are what they call disenfranchised snipers during wartime. One such individual, a Finnish soldier named Veiko (Ville Haapasalo), escapes the outdoor trap to which his compatriots, abhorring his pacifist streak, condemn him, and wanders into the Lapland countryside, where he meets a kindly, possibly widowed reindeer breeder (Anni-Kristiina Juuso) who already has her hands full tending to the wounds of a Russian captain (Viktor Bychkov) sprung loose by fate from the shackles of the secret police. What sounds like a set-up for a grade-school joke--a Finn, a Russian, and a Lapp walk onto a farm--becomes the basis for, with apologies to New Order, a bizarre love triangle, one to illustrate that who we are runs deeper than our native tongue.
The film's gimmick of all three characters never understanding each other because of the language barrier ("We have not had a cinema of this kind before," Rogozhkin self-flatteringly insists) succeeds at frustrating us but fails at including us, because thanks to the miracle of subtitles, we comprehend the entire trio at all times. ("I wanted to create the effect for the audience," Rogozhkin continues, "of understanding the characters without knowing the languages that they speak." Say what?) Some of the miscommunications are solidly comic (a conversation between the Russian--thirsty for Veiko's blood, not just out of jealousy over Anni's swaying affection but also because the Finnish are German allies--and Veiko--apologizing for the crudity of his hastily-erected sauna--is a small gem of screwball timing), but the threesome's decision to keep talking to one another is a tad preposterous, playing most profitably to our "Three's Company"-whetted appetite for wild misunderstandings, and The Cuckoo pans out as a facile, if entertaining, parable of encroaching globalism. Originally published: August 1, 2003.