reviewed by MH

Tolstoy asks, "Why does a man enjoy killing?"

In House of Fools (Dom durakov), a Russian film directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, a true story filmed at what serves as an insane asylum, mental patients are caught in the middle of the Chechen War.

In the early part of the film, we become acquainted with several patients, who are obsessives with a limited ability to cope with the vicissitudes of reality. Only the accordion music of Janna (played by Iuliya Vysotskaya) serves to cheer up the group, but she only knows one song – a lively polka. She believes that pop singer Bryan Adams (who plays himself in reverie shortcuts) is her fiancé, and the wall in her room is plastered with his pictures. Her music is regularly featured at well-attended physical-therapy sessions.

The deplorable conditions of the asylum are exposed in the film, with the resident physician (played by Vladas Begondas) doing his best. One day in 1996 the telephone line is cut, so the physician realizes that the Chechens have invaded that part of Russia, namely Ingushetia; he then leaves to get busses to transport the patients to a safer place, but his effort comes too late. While the patients await a return of authority, they do a good job of caring for each other; having been released from captivity, they engage in various forms of therapy, including a woman who swings in the nude from a rafter.

The Chechens soon take over the property where the asylum is located to set up camp, but not before terrorizing the patients in a vain effort to locate armed Russian soldiers. Janna's accordion is confiscated by Ahmed (played by Sultan Islamov), one of the soldiers, so she later follows the sound of his music; when she finds him, surrounded by his army buddies, she informs him that she owns the accordion, can play a tune, and even can dance. After playing and dancing, Ahmed proposes, entirely as a joke, to marry her. When she returns to her room, she wonders whether she can disappoint her fiancé Bryan Adams, but soon she gets dressed for a wedding, an activity that captivates the rest of the patients, though outspoken patient Vika (played by Marina Politseimako) sobs that she will miss her music.

Then Janna goes to the area where the Chechens are dining to present herself as Ahmed's bride. After some hilarity, Ahmed tries to let her down gently, but soon the Russians announce their presence with a tank and a white flag. The Russians have a body of a Chechen, so they ask the Chechens to identify the body; the aim is to make money by selling the body and some munitions to the Chechens for US$2,000. The Chechens agree. While the money is being counted, the Russian commander realizes that the Chechen commander saved his life in a battle in Afghanistan; as a result, the Russian refuses to take the $2,000, leaves the body with the Chechens, and departs.

After an interval, the Russians bombard the area where the asylum is located, the Chechens retreat, and the Russians take over the compound. In a sweep of the building, the Russians kill a few Chechen defenders, but one man eludes them. The philosophical anti-war film ends as the last remaining Chechen takes his place at the dinner table with the patients, and the physician permits him to stay. The soldier, who pretends to be a civilian, commits possibly the sanest act in the film. Certainly by now, film viewers will be convinced that the Chechen War is absurd. Rather than a quote from Tolstoy, the director might have chosen Rousseau instead: "To be sane is a world a madmen is itself a form of madness."