LONELY PLANET: UNDIVINE INTERVENTIONS FROM CAMBODIA TO CHECHNYA
The Village Voice 04.22.2003 Michael Atkinson
... For world-class lapses of judgment, Andrei Konchalovsky's House of Fools is a berserk overachiever. Based on a fascinating news item that arose from the Chechen war – a mental hospital on the region's border was abandoned by its staff thanks to nearby combat, and the inmates sustained themselves in the interim – the movie is a blast crater of preening caricature and stupefying narrative ideas. In the tradition of Philippe de Broca's odious cult fave King of Hearts (at Film Forum next month), the mentally disabled (including a fair number of actual handicapped) are portrayed as cute, goofy, spirited, and endearingly eccentric. The script folds in a shaggy dwarf, a mincing cross-dresser, and an obese anarchist, and with the cast being encouraged to howl and twitch, the institution comes off as Monty Python's Hospital for Over-Actors. Konchalovsky's idea of how the mentally ill behave without supervision or medication is to have them swinging naked from chandeliers. The movie's heroine, Janna (Iuliya Vysotskaya), is an impish, lisping gamine in delusional love with Top 40 relic Bryan Adams – who, as if to evoke for us the fresh hell of a maddened consciousness, makes several appearances as himself in Janna's dreams, singing the same awful Bryan Adams song seven or eight times.
Konchalovsky seems to think this collision of tastelessness and trampolining nonsense makes for some kind of humane poetry, but House of Fools only settles its boots on the floor once a troop of Chechen soldiers occupies the facility, initiating a series of skirmishes and bombing raids, as well as Janna's pointless heartbreak. Konchalovsky takes no side in the conflict – the generalized war-is-bad aphorisms fall profoundly from the mouth of an awakened catatonic, natch. Still, nothing will linger in your nightmares like the soft-focus image of Bryan Adams pouring champagne for a posh trainload of raving mental patients, to the relentless tune of Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman. ...