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‘Cuckoo’ characters break barriers

A Sami woman, a Russian soldier, and a Finnish sniper come together in the engrossing “Cuckoo.” Reviewed by David Elliott
/ Source: Special to msnbc.com

The Russians are still burying World War II, which seems to have been almost a bigger event for them than communism. One of the interesting burial details is “The Cuckoo.”

Cuckoo is a young Sami woman. Her “simple” tribe is related to the Laps, and she has a crude but cozy fishing hut on one of the many Russian lakes near Finland. Alone (“Two years since I had a man ...”), she goes about her timeless business, preparing for winter and finding the war (in 1944, as the Germans retreat) a crazy male distraction.

Suddenly, she has two men to care for: Veiko, a burly Finnish sniper eager to give up the war, chained to a rock and left behind to die by his German cohorts, and Ivan, a Russian captain under arrest for writing “anti-Soviet” poems but, after he is wounded and then rescued by Cuckoo, still enough of a Soviet to want to kill “fascist” Veiko.

Alexander Rogozhkin’s film is in the line of movies about our universal humanity beyond differences (the greatest is “Grand Illusion”).

The Finn, Russian and Sami woman are separated by their languages.

Real connections
Their misunderstandings are funny and sometimes dangerous, but politics and nationality become surface gibberish, and under that the real connections happen, the primally human, nearly pre-human speech of emphasis and emotion and gesture and desire.

Anni-Kristina Juuso, a Sami non-actress cast as Cuckoo, is the robust, no-nonsense force of female life.

This is fairly blatant in some of her overtures, but she is enjoyably vital.

Her rough magic recharges the men, the massive and engaging Veiko (Ville Haapasalo), the older and very Slavic Ivan (Viktor Bychkov).

And the wet, beautiful land around them is a pressing invitation to turn to life, away from demented carnage.

Shot in a desaturated color process that emphasizes textures, “The Cuckoo” feasts on the tangible.

As Cuckoo says, “Words won’t feed the deer.”

We also learn about a labyrinth to catch fish, how to mix reindeer blood and milk for a restoring potion, and how to free yourself from a chain spiked to a boulder.

David Elliott is the movie critic of The San Diego Union-Tribune. © 2003 by the Copley News Service.