House of Fools
Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky. Starring Yuliya Vysotskaya, Sultan Islamov, Stanislav Varkki, Vladas Bagdonas, Yevgeni Mironov, Yelena Fomina, Marina Politsejmako, Bryan Adams. (2002, R, 104 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 13, 2003
The esteemed Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky, who made a couple of well-regarded movies (Runaway Train, Shy People) during a sojourn in Hollywood during the Eighties, has not fared as well since returning to his native land. Perhaps his reputation remains intact because we've kindly neglected to remember his direction in America of less notable films like the dog of a movie Tango & Cash. But the two Russian movies I've seen since he departed America - 1991's The Inner Circle and last year's House of Fools - show that Konchalovsky has gotten bogged down in sentimental trifles that fail to travel well. House of Fools adopts the hoary metaphor of the madhouse as a microcosm of society. More or less based on a true story, House of Fools takes place during the Russian military invasion into Chechnya. All the medical and support staff flee the hospital, leaving the mental patients to run the asylum. Classic bedlam breaks out, which in this movie means resorting to tired cliches of things like naked patients swinging from the rafters. The story's focus of attention is Janna (Vysotskaya), a lovely wisp of a girl, a patient who plays accordion during the residents' exercises. Better functioning than some of the other inmates (many of whom are played by nonprofessional, real-life patients), Janna is a sweet naif who believes that she is engaged to the musician Bryan Adams (who actually appears in the film). When the Russian soldiers take over the asylum Janna quickly transfers her need for love to one of the soldiers who entertains himself in her company. Although House of Fools is as sweet as King of Hearts, it has none of the fury of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - if you combined the two films you would end up with something exactly like House of Fools. Vysotskaya's ever-present accordion is even reminiscent of Genevieve Bujold's umbrella in King of Hearts. Konchalovsky's overall portrait of asylum life is clichéd, yet his camera really comes to life in an action scene of the invasion as patients scatter across the grounds trapped in their own madness and oblivious to the explosions around them. The use of Bryan Adams as the madwoman's imagined paramour is indicative of just how mediocre this movie is.