The beauty of this movie is that you, as the reader of the subtitles, are the only one who knows what is going on. The woman and the two men all speak different languages. It is a comedy of errors up until the end.
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September of 1944, a few days before Finland went out of the Second World War. A chained to a rock Finnish sniper-kamikadze Veikko managed to set himself free. Ivan, a captain of the Soviet Army, arrested by the Front Secret Police 'Smersh', has a narrow escape. They are soldiers of the two enemy armies. A Lapp woman Anni gives a shelter to both of them at her farm. For Anni they are not enemies, but just men. Written by
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'Cuckoo' (as the bird) was military slang for a solitary sniper, the role Veikko is forced to masquerade as. See more »
At the beginning of the film, the Russian jeep with Ivan as a prisoner on it is seen moving on a straight road and at low speed. However, the driver of the jeep makes abrupt steering movements which is incoherent with the path of the jeep shown. See more »
Finnish-Russian synergy creates an international hit
Russia's film industry is in a drought of international distribution, but the World War II-era drama KUKUSHKA(CUCKOO) seems set to break away from that rut. The film, by St. Petersburg-based director Alexander Rogozhkin, has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics for limited distribution through American art-house theaters. Rogozhkin has achieved a level of recognition on the world festival circuit with his previous works, the comedy OSOBENNOSTI NATSIONALNOY OKHOTY (PECULIARTIES OF THE NATIONAL HUNT) and the Chechen-war drama BLOKPOST (CHECKPOINT).
PECULIARTIES OF THE NATIONAL HUNT, produced at Lenfilm Studios in 1994 during a low point in the studio's general track record, was a box office success in Russia, and spawned something of a franchise, with two sequels, spin-offs and even a brand of vodka named after Kuzmich, the tireless, boozing outdoorsman played by Viktor Bychkov. The plot of the original film involved a young Finnish man (played by Ville Haapasalo) coming to Russia to experience a real Russian hunt, only to fall in with Kuzmich and his motley group of friends, who seem more interested in drinking than hunting.
Work on the film OSOBENNOSTI NATSIONALNOY RYBALKI (PECULIARTIES OF NATIONAL FISHING) cemented the friendship between Bychkov and Haapasalo, who went from relative obscurity to becoming household names in their respective countries with subsequent work on other films and TV commercials.
Haapasalo, a Finnish graduate of the St. Petersburg Theater Arts Academy, also acts on stage in Finland and is working on new translations of classic Russian drama into Finnish. Having appeared together in a stage adaption of Fyodor Dostoevsky's "Diary of a Madman," Haapasalo and Bychkov asked Rogozhkin to write a stage play for three people, something in which they could appear together. Rogozhkin accepted the challenge, and the screenplay for KUKUSHKA was the result.
"They asked me to write a play, but I didn't see a play," recalled Rogozhkin at a press conference before the film's release. "I saw the story I was writing as a film, and once I had the ending down, I knew I had the film."
A former history student, Rogozhkin was intrigued by the Continuation War, a protraction of the Russo-Finnish Winter War and part of the greater WWII conflict. The cease-fire with the Soviet Union began officially Sept. 4, 1944, although forces on both sides continued firing until the next morning. This is when the film's story begins.
Unaware of the conflict's end, one Soviet Army officer and one Finnish soldier are imprisoned in the wilderness for different, unexplained reasons. They escape through a mix of effort and circumstance, and end up in the hut of a lonely but spirited Saami woman who does not take sides, but takes care of - and comes to love - them both. Rogozhkin wanted to go beyond the story of three people converging in the hinterlands of war, to create a situation where three people speak three different languages but come to understand one another in other ways.
After some consultation with Haapasalo and others, Rogozhkin decided that the third person in the film would be a Saami woman, the correct term for the people more commonly known as the Lapp. The Saami language is part of the Finno-Ugric group, but is very different from Finnish. Traditionally, the Saami hunted wild reindeer, though they have adapted to herd semi-domesticated reindeer. The film offers a glimpse into Saami life through the microcosm of the life of Anni, a young widow living on the Karelian coast. Anni is played by Anni-Christina Juuso, a Saami who dealt with language barriers on the film's set. She does not speak Russian and depended upon Haapasalo for translation.
Haapasalo plays Veiko, a Finnish sniper - making the film's title a play on words, since "kukushka," or cuckoo, is also Russian military slang for sniper. Chained to a rock by SS officers, and clothed in an SS uniform that would condemn him to death if discovered by Russian patrols, Veiko spends a good portion of the film trying to extricate himself.
For the role, Haapasalo wore authentic Finnish army underclothes of the period, some of which belonged to his grandfather. "I changed after working on this film," Haapasalo said. "I began to see my grandfather in another light. I won't watch this film - I don't watch any of my films. But from what I know of it, I think the film will stand multiple viewings. It may take seeing it more than once to fully understand it."
Bychkov's portrayal of Captain Kartuzov is a real departure from his Kuzmich character. Bychkov put on some weight for the role, and his demeanor is solemn and conscientious, markedly different from his happy-go-lucky Kuzmich. The seriousness of the role broke his typecasting a little bit: "Some people who had addressed me informally before started calling me by my first name and patronymic after seeing the film," Bychkov said. KUKUSHKA premiered at the Moscow Film Festival in June 2002, where it won Silver St. George awards for Best Director and Best Actor (Haapasalo). The film has also been received favorably in Finland, and Haapasalo has received a Patriot of Finland Award from a Finnish veterans' association in Lahti.
The film has a lot riding on the Bychkov-Haapasalo rapport, but Rogozhkin is confident: "These are two actors with very different psycho-physical aspects," he admitted. "But they do have a peculiar chemistry."
And Bychkov says Juuso's contribution was no less important: "Despite the fact that Ville had to translate for her at every turn, she understood the story - with her heart."
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