The Cuckoo

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The Cuckoo

As the Nazi occupiers of Finland fled the advancing Soviet army near the end of WWII, they stranded some Finnish soldiers who had been recruited to fight for the German side. Rarely has the arbitrary nature of warfare been better expressed than in the opening reel of Aleksandr Rogozhkin's wry cross-cultural comedy The Cuckoo, which finds one such soldier chained to a rock and ordered to shoot as many Russians as he can before he dies. Swathed conspicuously in SS garb, the sniper can be forgiven for not being terribly dedicated to his suicide mission, acting as a human landmine for a futile and evil cause that's not his own. Given such an absurd and chaotic moment in Finnish history, it's a shame that Rogozhkin doesn't spend more time explicating it, instead of segueing into a featherweight love triangle with only mild moral and cultural overtones. As a stand-alone piece, the nearly wordless opening has a quiet, mesmerizing intensity, following soldier Ville Haapasalo's painstaking efforts to free himself from the rock with a pair of eyeglass lenses, gunpowder from his bullet cartridges, and dry brush for a fire. In the meantime, Haapasalo watches the buzzing warplanes overhead accidentally hit a Soviet jeep, killing an officer and severely wounding his prisoner Viktor Bychkov, a former captain accused of writing subversive poetry. The two men cross paths again at a seaside reindeer farm, where young, coquettish Lapp widow Anni-Christina Juuso nurses Bychkov back to health and provides shelter for Haapasalo after he wriggles out of his shackles. Already proscribed enemies, the tension between Bychkov and Haapasalo increases when the sex-starved Juuso picks the right warm body for a fling, leaving the other literally out in the cold. And, to further exacerbate the problem, none of them speak the same language. Somewhere between a Jim Jarmusch comedy and Danis Tanovic's No Man's Land, albeit without the urgency or contemporary resonance, The Cuckoo scores a few big laughs from the characters' inability to scale the language barrier. Entire conversations pass where they chatter right past each other and only the audience understands what's actually being said. Though it gets far too cute, The Cuckoo settles into the snappy rhythms of a promising sitcom pilot, at least until Rogozhkin decides to get serious and posit their miscommunication as a honking metaphor for war: These men are enemies, he implies, but at heart they're really the same. And the less said about the film's trippy bout with Lapp mysticism, the better.

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