House of Fools

(Dom Durakov)

House of Fools answers a pertinent question that has been on the minds of millions across the world: what has Bryan Adams been up to? Aside from Ryan Adams jokes and a payola scandal, apparently not much. Adams (Pink Cadillac) has a role in House of Fools, the latest film from writer/director Andrei Konchalovsky (The Royal Way, The Odyssey) as the star of Janna's (Julia Vysotskaya, Max, Game of Imagination) active fantasy life. Janna lives in a mental institution and believes that Adams is her fiance. She imagines herself in a better place, with Adams serenading her. Reality rudely intrudes on her relatively easy life in the form of the Russian Chechen war. The institution is near the Russian-Chechnyan border, and some heavy fighting leaves all the patients without medical supervision.

Things become just as convoluted and bizarre as the situation implies. Unfortunately, Konchalovsky doesn't do anything to make this organized chaos compelling in any fashion. The patients run amok for a while before some Chechen soldiers commandeer the hospital. They want the supplies and could care less about the patients. Janna and Ali (Stanislav Varkki) are two of the sanest patients, and try to ensure that everybody else has adequate care. Janna helps by playing polka on her accordion. This soothes the other patients, and also thrusts Janna into her fantasy world. When she plays, she envisions better things; the room lights up and the people around her dance.

Ahkmet (Sultan Islamov) tells Janna he wants to marry her. Obviously he doesn't but Janna doesn't know this, and a good part of the film is her preparing for her wedding. Konchalovsky used actual patients for some of the roles (much like the film Quitting). The scenes with patients quickly become tedious. The juxtaposition between Janna's idealized fantasy life and reality doesn't work either. As the war worsens, the plight of the patients increases as does the boredom of the audience.

Presumably, Konchalovsky is trying to say something about the futility of war and how people can find happiness is simple things. Instead, House of Fools feels like an exercise in the bizarre. However, there is one scene that redeems the film. Chechens have control of the hospital, but Russian soldiers arrive to bring a dead Chechen soldier. The initial encounter is tense, as both sides feel edgy and uneasy. Soon, they discover that in Afghanistan, the Chechens rescued the Russian commander. Other soldiers trade drugs for ammunition. Clearly, both sides to not want to fight each other. The moment is quiet, almost surreal. Both commanders sit almost uneasily enjoying the moment before they have to return to violence. This is by far the most powerful moment in the film, and it's a shame that it is such a small part of House of Fools.

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 44 minutes, Russian with English subtitles, Rated R for language, some violence, and nudity.

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