Film review: Cuckoo, The

Published: Friday, Sept. 12 2003 7:47 a.m. MDT

Ville Haapasalo plays Veiko, a Finnish sniper who happens to be a pacifist, in "The Cuckoo."

Tatjana Kanaeva, Sony Pictures Classics

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Call it misleading, or call it what you will, but a title like "The Cuckoo" seems to promise a wackier, zanier movie than this Russian-produced cinematic parable actually is.

Which is not to say the film — set in the waning days of World War II — doesn't have its moments of humor. But those bits are more amusing than laugh-out-loud funny, and they're in service of the story.

That's one of several refreshing things about the movie that sets it apart from your average, formulaic comedy. Another is that it doesn't club you over the head to make its point.

It looks at the war through three different viewpoints. Finnish sniper Veiko (Ville Haapasalo) is a pacifist, so his fellow soldiers brand him a coward and chain him to a rock, hoping Russian soldiers will find him and execute him.

Meanwhile, Ivan (Viktor Bychkov), a veteran officer in the Russian army, finds himself in a similar predicament. Though he remains loyal, he's being sent off for court martial because he received anti-

Soviet correspondence.

Both men manage to get free — Veiko by using his wits, Ivan due to a hidden mine that kills his driver and guard. Enter Anni (Anni-Kristiina Juuso), a Lapp widow who finds the injured Ivan and nurses him back to health.

When he awakens, Ivan's not thrilled to see Veiko there as well. However, they'll have to put aside their differences if they're going to survive the winter. There's just one problem: Neither of them speaks the other's language.

Writer-director Alexander Rogozhkin makes nearly all of his points with surprising subtlety. The film, however, is hampered by inconsistent characterizations.

Some of that is due to Bychkov, whose character is so abrasive that we never really warm to him. Still, Haapasalo is extremely likable, while Juuso's performance has the warmth and fire to make the expected — inevitable — romantic triangle believable.

"The Cuckoo" is rated PG-13 for wartime violence (gunfire, brawling and explosive mayhem), scattered use of mild profanity (religiously based) and crude slang terms, brief gore, brief partial male nudity and brief sex (overheard). Running time: 99 minutes.


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