‘House of Fools’ links war and insanity

Nathan Molteni

Andrei Konchalovsky’s black comedy “House of Fools” (“Dom Durakov”) follows a group of mental hospital patients abandoned in their asylum in the 1990s during the Chechen War in Russia.

Without staff members or doctors, the inmates find themselves in newfound positions of self-reliance and power, leading to chaos.

Upon realizing that no forces are holding them inside the hospital, the patients’ escape to freedom is cut short by the arrival of Muslim guerrilla forces that commandeer the hospital, thus putting the inmates in the line of fire.

Possibly based on a real news item, the film displays a dichotomy of reality and fantasy throughout, both in the imagery and in the characters’ minds.

Konchalovsky’s use of real asylum patients along with actors in the film lends authenticity to the mental hospital scenes.

Simultaneously, the number of dream sequences balances that realism with a surrealistic world sprung from the mind of the main character.

That central figure is an attractive inmate who believes she is engaged to Canadian pop star Bryan Adams. (He makes multiple surrealistic appearances in the film, performing his song “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman,” which becomes a musical leitmotif for the entire film.)

Konchalovksy’s credited career began in 1961, with notable moments including writing 1966’s masterpiece, “Andrei Roublev” and directing the 1979 epic “Siberiade.”

Due to the censoring of his earlier films by Communist officials, Koncahlovsky left Russia and moved to the United States, where he made some well-regarded films, such as “Maria’s Lovers,” “Runaway Train” and “Shy People.”

The 2002 film “House of Fools,” which Konchalovksy wrote, co-produced and directed, was his first work dealing with historical events in his native Russia following the end of the Soviet Regime.

Winner of the Special Grand Jury Prize and the UNICEF Award at the prestigious Venice Film Festival in 2002, as well as an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film, “House of Fools” offers no stance on the Chechen War, aside from a clear disapproval of war itself.

Konchalovksy determines clearly that war itself is a type of insanity, as the soldiers within the film often fail to distinguish themselves in words and actions from the inmates within the hospital.

As the third feature in Villanova’s Spring 2008 Cultural Film & Lecture Series, “House of Fools” will be screened four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 3:30 and 7 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m.

Admission is free for students with proper ID and $5 for everyone else. The movie will be shown in its original language, Russian, with English subtitles.

Guest speaker Boris Briker from the modern language department will be at the Monday evening screening to provide an introduction and lead a discussion after the film.

For more information, please contact the communication department at x9-4750 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or consult the CFS Web page: www.culturalfilms.villanova.edu.