The Cuckoo is a stirring action movie — in the international manner of ”The Fast Runner” or ”No Man’s Land” rather than ”T3.” Indeed, actions express what words can’t in Alexander Rogozhkin’s captivating pacifist drama, set in the starkly beautiful, primeval forest greenery of Lapland during the summer of 1944 before Finland pulled out of its alliance with Nazi Germany. There, on a remote reindeer farm, a wounded Russian army captain who writes poetry (Viktor Bychkov) and a Finnish soldier who doesn’t want to fight (Ville Haapasalo) find refuge with Anni (Anni-Kristiina Juuso), a young Lapp widow. No one shares a language. Yet superficial definitions of enemy and ally fall away as a ménage of companionship and shared labor is established.
The speech barrier separating the three intimate strangers doesn’t keep them from talking; in fact, incomprehension inspires volubility, as each freely pours out needs and longings. (In the film’s sweetest moments of comedy, misinterpretation is absurdly cheerful, each expressive talker blithely confident that the other surely understands.)
”The Cuckoo” is about the primal human desire to connect (with her husband gone for four years, Anni hungers for a man’s touch) and the possibility that peace is a more powerful instinct than war. Rogozhkin, who also wrote the eloquent screenplay, has an unobtrusive respect for his odd trio, a deep understanding of the extraordinary Lapp landscape and how to use it without relying on its exoticism, and a keen eye for casting: Juuso, herself a Sami (as the Lapp people prefer to call themselves) reindeer herder and who is making her feature debut, holds the screen with her open gaze, and when she loses herself in spiritual rituals to nurse a wounded man to life, her radiance transcends the boundaries of language.