Sentimental anti-war tale set in a besieged mental hospital where the residents are left to fend for themselves when Chechen soldiers occupy it and Russian troops attack. Director Andrei Konchalovsky shows much compassion for his fragile characters as well as a measure of whimsy in suggesting they are more sane than those who wage war.

It's hard to tell the sane from the insane when the residents of a mental hospital are caught in the crossfire of Chechen and Russian soldiers in House of Fools (Paramount Classics). Set in 1996, the fact-based film from Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky is set in an asylum on the Chechen border that the staff hastily abandons as opposing soldiers close in.

The lovely young Janna (Iuliya Vysotskaya), who plays the accordion to calm her fellow patients, imagines that pop musician Bryan Adams is her fiancé. But when the Chechen troops occupy the asylum, one of them flirts with Janna and she takes his kidding proposal of marriage seriously, though regretting that she will break Adams' heart. (The singer appears in her hallucinations and his hit, Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman wafts throughout the film).

Nonetheless, the patients bond to wish her well as she dons her prettiest white dress and hat and goes to Ahmed's (Sultan Islamov) quarters, where his commanding officer admonishes him and suggests he should marry her as offered. Meanwhile the patients, who range from simply confused to violent, must cope with their normally structured lives being completely upended by the frightening presence of war literally at their doorstep when Russian soldiers arrive and the inevitable battles erupt.

Konchalovsky orchestrates a poignant story about the search for love in the midst of war that is beautifully acted by Vysotskaya, who brings real heart to the sometimes jarring mix of violence, dark humor and occasional touches of whimsy. The suggestion that these holy fools are wiser than the sane soldiers that surround them is not an original insight by any means, but one can still be moved by the director's humanism and compassion for his fragile characters. The blending of professional actors with actual mentally and physically disabled patients, however, is not done smoothly.

Some may find the film's sentimentality to be a serious flaw, although its anti-war sentiment remains clear and its visuals are always handsomely accomplished.