KUKUSHKA (THE CUCKOO)
This week’s movie:
The Tower of Babel was a cruel joke ……………….funny though.
Here’s a question for you. If everybody in the world spoke the same language, would we fight less …..or more? I’ve been to other countries. Places where I neither understand nor speak the language - where I don’t know what anybody is saying, and where nobody knows what I’m saying. And yet - I’m still here. Contrary to what many people believe, one can survive this experience.
Have you ever watched a foreign language film with the subtitles OFF - and wonder what they were talking about? I do this sometimes. Some languages sound so exotic (Asian languages especially. You would think maybe French - but in French films, I’m too busy watching the lips move to care watch they’re saying - and besides, I know just enough French to get really confused) ………so, what was I saying? Oh yeah - some languages sound so exotic, that I pretend that they’re saying, perhaps, one of the following, but am often wrong
- What I imagined: “You want to know who I am? I am… I am the Invincible Sword Goddess, armed with the Green Destiny that knows no equal! Be you Li or Southern Crane, bow your head and ask for mercy! I am the dragon from the desert! Who comes from nowhere and leaves no trace! Today I fly over Eu-Mei. Tomorrow… I topple Mount Wudan!” ——-What was actually said: “I left my car’s lights on. Does anybody have battery cables?”
- What I imagined: “Your laugh is a sudden silvery wave. Your smile spreads like a butterfly.” ——- What was actually said: “You have a little …….er ………mustard on your face ………no, lower - there you got it.”
- What I imagined: “To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them.” ——-What was actually said: “Get the butter”
- What I imagined: “Rosebud.” ——-What was actually said: “No, seriously, get the butter.”
- What I imagined: “My momma always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’” ——- What was actually said: “Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”
- What I imagined: “There’s only one proper way for a professional soldier to die: the last bullet of the last battle of the last war.” ——- What was actually said: “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.”
- What I imagined: “The way your dad looked at it, this watch was your birthright. He’d be damned if any slopes gonna put their greasy yellow hands on his boy’s birthright, so he hid it, in the one place he knew he could hide something: his ass. Five long years, he wore this watch up his ass. Then when he died of dysentery, he gave me the watch. I hid this uncomfortable piece of metal up my ass for two years. Then, after seven years, I was sent home to my family. And now, little man, I give the watch to you.” ——- What was actually said: “The way your dad looked at it, this watch was your birthright. He’d be damned if any slopes gonna put their greasy yellow hands on his boy’s birthright, so he hid it, in the one place he knew he could hide something: his ass. Five long years, he wore this watch up his ass. Then when he died of dysentery, he gave me the watch. I hid this uncomfortable piece of metal up my ass for two years. Then, after seven years, I was sent home to my family. And now, little man, I give the watch to you.” …………… sometimes, I get it right!
- What I imagined: “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” ——- What was actually said: “If I remember her appetite, I don’t think we have enough gin in this joint.
- What I imagined: “A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.” ——- What was actually said: “Frickin’ fava beans - I hate those things!”
- What I imagined: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” ——- What was actually said: “Yes, you must give us all a good spanking.”
It’s very difficult not to misinterpret what you don’t understand. Thus you have the main premise of this week’s video recommendation, THE CUCKOO. The story revolves around three characters in Northern Europe near the end of Second World War. The first is Ivan, a captain in the Soviet Army. He has been arrested by the Russian secret police an is being transported back for disciplinary action when their vehicle is bombed. Ivan is the only survivor, though unconscious. He is found by Anni, a Lapp woman whose reindeer farm is nearby. She drags him back to nurse him to health. Anni’s husband left for the war four years earlier and never returned. She hasn’t seen a man since.
Meanwhile ……. Veiko, a Finnish soldier, has lost his will to fight. At that time Finland allied themselves with Germany until 1944 when they said, enough is enough. The Germans punish him in two ways. They dress him in a Natzi uniform (they were smart enough to understand that everybody hated the Natzis) , and then they chain him to a large rock, and then leave him for dead, as eventually Russians will come along and shoot him - or he’d shoot himself - or he’d starve to death. Instead, after a time, he escapes the chains and stumbles onto Anni’s reindeer farm.
I know it sounds like I’m giving you the whole story but really, I’m just setting up the premise. The story isn’t about everything I’ve mentioned so far, it’s about what happens down on Anni’s farm - by the lake. You have three people - from three different countries - speaking three different languages - and no one can understand what the other two are saying. Complicate this with the fact that the Russian thinks the Finn is really a German (because of the uniform), his sworn enemy. The Finn wants nothing at all to do with fighting and considers the Russian to be an ally against the Germans. And Anni, the Lapp woman, ……….hasn’t seen a man in four years.
Things get interesting.
There are many funny moments, as when they have a three way conversation, each one talking about a completely different subject. There are many tense moments when the men, whose instincts have been honed by many years of fighting war, clash with misunderstanding. There are also many heartwarming moments when the men, whose instincts have been honed by a lifetime of trying to impress women, decide that sometimes it’s more important to make your host happy than it is to kill your enemy. They don’t understand each other’s language - but sometimes that’s not necessary - there are other ways to get your message across. Anni’s a woman, and she knows how to make men understand.
KUKUSHKA (translation: THE CUCKOO) takes place during World War Two, but it’s not about the war. It transcends the war to illuminate the beauty that is the human spirit, and raises questions. If you consider men who are wartime enemies and then take away the war, are they still enemies? If the saving angel of Anni wasn’t there to keep them in line, would they try so hard to come to understand one another? And …..If everybody in the world spoke the same language, would we fight less …..or more?
THE CUCKOO was the darling of the independent film festival circuit in 2002, when it was released. I don’t know about the rest of the movie-going world, but here in the US, it passed virtually unnoticed. I didn’t even pick up on it from my usual sources of such information. It was a discovery made late at night, on a weekend, in my neighborhood video store - when the shelves are nearly empty. I saw it, idly picked it up, read the back cover, and was sold (besides, I could not leave empty handed!). I am constantly amazed that great, thoughtful, smart, refreshing, and entertaining films like this seems to pass unnoticed by 98% of the population and yet movies like College Road Trip (tomatometer: 6%) is, as of this writing, enjoying its 4th week at my local cinema. Maybe that’s why I never go out to the movies anymore.
THE CUCKOO scores a 91% on the tomatometer.
Common Sense Media, who judges age appropriateness for movies, doesn’t have a rating for this film (seems they’ve never heard of it either), but if were I were to hazard a guess, I would give it an ON:13+ (recommended for anyone 13 years or older - maybe 11 or 12 if they’re pretty savvy).
THE CUCKOO is a feel good movie with a positive, heartwarming, and life-affirming message. Do yourself a favor and give up and hour and a half of mind-numbing soul-robbing “reality-based” television, and watch this film instead - just for one night.
You may have to look in more than one place for it - but it’s certainly worth the effort.