Though often unacknowledged for his keen insight into post-Soviet Russia, Andrei Konchalovsky's well-leveled criticism regarding the living conditions and atmosphere under the new administration is noteworthy. The starting point of House of Fools is brilliant: a mental asylum gets overrun by a war, falling under the auspices of the victors. After the remaining staff disappears, patients – rather than seizing the opportunity to flee – stay on to run the hospital, which over the years has become less a place that restrains them than a veritable home. The film setting is based on a true story: a similar institution was indeed found on the border of Chechnya and Ingushetia in 1995.
In this film, our accepted definitions of madness and sanity become obsolete. The patients often appear far healthier in mind than their soldier counterparts who go about their daily business of slaughter. This discrepancy is particularly evident in the case of one patient, a young woman (played magnificently by Iuliya Vysotskaya, the director's wife) who sees the relevance in her search for love.
House of Fools is simultaneously a grotesque tragicomedy and a sensitive exploration of profoundly human values. Konchalovsky masters a broad emotional spectrum with a bold palette, the results being exemplary expressiveness, all the way from the beginning to the deliberate breach of style that includes a surprising performance by Bryan Adams. Reality, escapism, and dreams all coexist in the midst of chaos and destruction. With an edge that allows for both laughter and tears, it is little wonder that Konchalovsky's vision won both the Jury's special award in Venice and an "honorary acknowledgement" in Bergen in 2002.