David Litton

There is a moment early on in House of Fools in which the film's main character, a Russian mental patient named Janna, envisions Canadian singer Bryan Adams crooning the verses to his tune Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman from a passing train. Moments later, she and the rest of the Looney Tunes crowd in the asylum can be seen hearding themselves every which way, acting the way in which movies for years have led us to believe that mental patients must act: like sedated serial killers doped up and deprived of their weapons. This and many other blunders befall writer/director Andrei Konchalovsky's ode to the insanities of war, which is as dazed and confused about itself as the people it portrays. It's an irritating film, so fixated on its own philosophical message that it goes completely overboard in relaying its meaning to an audience that should prepare for this journey with large doses of Percodan and No-Doz.

The film is based on the true story of a psychiatric facility located in the midst of the Chechen War in 1996; that there is any fact to this off-key lark is surprising in itself. Why anyone would want to make a movie about it is beyond my comprehension; the story of Janna (Iuliya Vysotskaya) falling in love with a Chechen soldier named Ahmed (Sultan Islamov), but later refraining because she fears Bryan Adams will be heartbroken, lacks any sort of power or resonance, even when its underlying purpose is staring us right in the face. The basic question Konchalovsky poses to us (Who's crazier: the mental patients or the world that holds them prisoner in the asylum?) is evident in almost every scene featuring interaction between babbling headcases and supposedly sane normal folk; what remains hazy is the film's sense of purpose, its reason for being. It combines routine depictions of mental patients with the typical frenetic war images we've all seen before; it has no clear direction or dramatic tension, and we care nothing for what happens to the characters. It all amounts to ambition trussed up in idiocy; when it comes down to it, the only fool in this House is Konchalovsky himself.