Shelley Cameron

Based on true events, this black comedy concerns the residents of a mental hospital caught up in the fighting between the Russians and Chechen rebels in 1996 in the Chechen province.

When the combat comes dangerously close, the doctor in charge leaves them on their own, planning to bring back a bus to evacuate the patients to a safer place. In his absence, they fend for themselves, in some ways very capably, but ultimately ill-equipped to cope. When a group of not-too-disagreeable Chechen bandits storms the hospital, patient Janna, a lovely young woman, becomes the focal point of the collective dreams of the inmates to leave and live an imagined life. The inmates wait each night to watch a train that passes by. In their imagination, it radiates brilliance, festooned with festive lights and giving off a magical aura to the strains of the sweet love songs of Bryan Adams. One night the doctor receives word there will be no train and that the fighting is close at hand.

Similar in theme to Philippe de Broca's King of Hearts and in tone to 1998's Cabaret Balkan, but without a real focus, the film wanders a bit too much to capture the humanity in these characters and the tragedy of war. An interesting effort to meld the horrors of combat with the fragility of these psychiatric patients, it gets muddled by its own ambition. The result of incorporating too many anecdotal episodes is disjointed. Stereotypical obligatory characterizations (the poet, the colonel, the overweight shrew) of folks in an asylum mar the opportunity for any cohesive, meaningful connection to them.

Janna plays the accordion, is liked by everyone, and manages her difficulties by retreating into her fantasy of a love affair with real life singer Adams. To assuage her loneliness or when things get too wild among the inmates, she plays her accordion and Bryan is there to put his arms around her as he sings. Through her precious accordion, which she hauls out to calm the residents and entertain the interlopers, she plays the part of the holy fool in this House of Fools.

When a soldier offhandedly makes a jesting marriage proposal to Janna, the residents pull together a beaded dress and a lovely hat for her wedding. In this bombed-out chaos where there is barely food, medical supplies or a lavatory, Janna dressed in the finery only serves as a distraction and hinders credibility. Iuliya Vysotskaya's (Janna) exhausting efforts to appear vulnerable and waif-like, but not too beautiful, fail to fully convince. If one can overlook some illogical plot points, the conclusion does provide poignancy, but the holy fool in the person of flower child Janna is not the one we feel the most for.