TV Guide
Ken Fox

Writer-director Andrei Konchalovsky's dun-colored anti-war fable may look more like Titicut Follies than King of Hearts, but it's grounded in a similarly romanticized scenario, in which the cheerful madness inside an asylum pales next to the insanity of the war outside – in this case, the 1996 Chechen conflict. Inspired by a true story, the story unfolds in a small psychiatric hospital in the tiny Russian republic of Ingushetia. Located a few miles from the Chechen border, the sanitarium is home to a variety of colorful patients, including freckle-faced Janna Timofeyeva (Iuliya Vysotskaya), a delusional young accordion player convinced that Canadian pop star Bryan Adams (who does actually appear in a series of golden-hazed fantasy sequences singing his hit song Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman) is her fiancé. The real world comes crashing in one morning when the residents wake up to find themselves abandoned by the hospital staff. Spooked by an impending battle between the Russian army and Chechen rebels, the nurses have decamped for the hills, while the doctor (Vladas Bagdonas) who runs the institution has gone looking for buses he can use to evacuate the residents. Giddy chaos soon gives way to terror when, amid shelling and the sounds of gunfire, a Chechen regiment led by Commander Vakhid (Ruslan Naurbiev) appears on the doorstep with a number of casualties and Russian prisoners. After setting up camp within the sanitarium's walls – across which the soldiers paint the words "mental patients" to deflect Russian fire – Chechen actor Ahmed (Sultan Islamov), who joined the rebel army after his father and brothers were killed by Russian troops, jokingly proposes marriage to Janna. She innocently takes him at his word, and begins preparing for her upcoming nuptials with the help of the other residents. Once again pressed into the service of allegory, serious mental illness is relegated to harmless twitches and quirks borne by an entertaining cast of eccentrics endowed with a unique wisdom all their own. The film becomes interesting only when Konchalovsky digresses from Janna's story to show the interactions between the Chechen fighters and the Russian troops who soon arrive at the hospital gates. Recognizing one another from the days they fought side by side in Afghanistan, they buy back their dead with U.S. dollars and cynically trade ammunition for bags of pot.