A Finnish soldier, under the command of Nazi soldiers, is staked to a chain and left in the northern wilderness to survive or perish. A Russian soldier, Ivan (Victor Bychkov), is being sent to the rear to face court-martial for his politically incorrect talk. The tethered soldier, Veika (Ville Haapasalo), watches through his scope as Russian planes bomb the jeep carrying Ivan and his guards. He then watches a young Lapp woman drag the bodies away. When he finally frees himself he seeks out the woman and finds one Russian, Ivan, is still alive. Since none speaks the others' language a true Tower of Babel is born in "The Cuckoo."
Writer/director Alexander Rogozhkin creates a mostly interesting film that falters, unfortunately, in its Bergmanesque dramatic climax, an extended scene where one of the principals struggles with death. Until that point, though, Rogozhkin does a wonderful job of weaving together the story of three unlikely souls thrown together in the most unlikely place you can imagine - the land of the Lapps.
Anni (Anni-Kristiina Juuso) lives a bleak, tough existence at the very edge of civilization. The Germans or the Russians, it is never clear which, took her husband away four years ago. Since then she has tended the reindeer and harvested the fish and has eked out a subsistence level existence. When fate drops Ivan and Veika on her doors step she wonders aloud about having been without a man for four years and now fate brings her two! A practical person, though, Anni accepts the providence. Ivan, recovering from a concussion caused by the bombing, is in her care when Veika arrives. The Finn explains to the belligerent Russian that he is a pacifist, not a German soldier at all, and that he was made to wear the SS uniform to keep him from surrendering to the Russians. Ivan understands, only, that Veika has a gun.
As life goes on and Ivan recuperates the trio each carries on conversations in their own language, making for honest discussions and philosophical viewpoints that only the speaker and we understand. This complexity of characters and dialogue make for some very amusing and telling conversations. In one nicely done sequence, the two men are in the sauna they had built together. Veika takes Ivan's surliness as a negative reaction for their work when, in fact, the Russian is baring his soul over his failed marriages. Writer Rogozhkin does a wonderful job in developing believable characters and giving them intelligent words to speak.
Anni-Kristiin Juuso is a wonder as Anni, or Cuckoo as her family had named her. She is a bit of a witch doctor and blends herbal potions to stave off illness, much to the chagrin of Ivan who samples one of these potions. She is a forthright young lady and makes no bones about wanting sex and getting it when she wants it especially after four years' abstinence. Viktor Bychkov gives a somewhat melancholy performance as the older Ivan who has a crush on Anni but fears he can't compete with the young stud, Veika. Ville Haapasalo is charming and befuddled as the young anti-warrior as he brandishes his rifle and repeatedly (and loudly) tells Ivan that he has no ammunition. The Russian, of course, doesn't understand a word, which leads to other unexpected events.
Technical credits are exemplary. The production design, by Vladimir Svetozarov, of Anni's homestead is imaginative with a tinge of Swiss Family Robinson ingenuity. Costuming by Marina Nikolaeva fits both the period and the harsh conditions of life near the Arctic Circle. Camera work, by Andrei Zhegalov, shows the beauty of the stark northern landscape in his exteriors and the soft warmth of firelight inside Anni's home. His camera is also enamored with Anni-Kristiin Juuso whom he shoots with loving attention and beautiful lighting.
My only real criticism of "The Cuckoo" is the Bergman-like surrealistic climax goes on far too long and actually jolts your attention away from the quite charming and moving story that preceded it. It is a big flaw in an overall fine film but, still, I give it a B+.
"No Man's Land" light - charming but predictable with an overly drawn out conclusion. B-
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