The premise of the film –a Russian, a Finn and a Lapp who can’t understand each other thogether in a tiny backwoods hut — sounds like the beginning of a good joke, and Alexander Rogozhkin’s “The Cuckoo” is just that: charming, smart and funny. It is also an anti-war statement, and ignores the epic heroism of the Red army in WWII to condemn all war. A concise, witty script, careful direction and standout perfs by the three leads may help it go beyond fest slots (it is slated for competition in the upcoming Moscow fest) to find adventurous auds willing to risk its offbeat Northern wilderness setting.
Story opens on a band of German soldiers intent on chaining a Finnish army private, Veiko (Wille Haapsalo), to a rock in the middle of a forest clearing. Dressed in his SS uniform, he is bound to attract the attention of a Russian sniper who, the Germans believe, will finish him off.
But Veiko is a resourceful lad and, knowing the war is almost over (it’s September 1944), is determined to survive. He escapes from the rock with an ingenious stratagem and stumbles upon the house of a young Lapp peasant woman, Anny (Anni-Kristina Usso). She is already tending to a middle-aged Russian soldier (Viktor Bychkov) with a bad concussion.
Although the trio don’t speak a word of each other’s language, their attitudes speak for them. Ivan the Russian is a foolish idealist who refuses to regard the nice young Veiko as anything but a fascist. The Finn, a college student, tries to explain — by citing Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” Dostoevsky’s “The Idiot” and even Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms” — that for him the war is over. Down-to-earth Anny, whose husband was marched away four years ago, makes hilariously misunderstood insinuations about her desire to bed the two men.
Tale takes a dramatic turn when, in another case of cultural misunderstanding, Veiko is seriously wounded. In a magical finale, Anny (who confesses her “real” name is the Cuckoo) uses a traditional Lapp ritual to keep his spirit from following the path of the dead.
Cinematographer Andrei Zhegalov expresses the heart and soul of the Lapp country in breathtaking panoramas with a mystical twinge. Dmitri Pavlov’s sparsely used music score underlines the awe-inspiring power of nature.