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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
Film brings Chechen war to Venice
Andrei Konchalovsky and star Julia Vysotsky
Konchalovsky with Mad House star Julia Vysotsky
A film telling the story of the Chechen war through the eyes of asylum patients has captured the attention of audiences at the Venice film festival.

Andrei Konchalovsky's The Mad House looks at the 1994-96 Chechen war through the eyes of mentally ill residents on the border with Russia.

It was among the more heavyweight fare as the focus of the festival shifts from Hollywood.

Shelled buildings in Grozny
Fighting continues in Chechnya
Moscow-born Konchalovsky, responsible for Hollywood films Runaway Train and Tango and Cash, told reporters he wanted to tell both sides of the story in Chechnya.

Between 1994 and 1996 Chechnyan forces drove the Russian army out of the region, despite being outnumbered and outgunned by the Russians.

Since then, Chechnya has run its own affairs as an Islamic republic, though Russia insists it is still part of the Russian Federation, and fighting continues to this day.

The director has showed his script to both Chechens and a KGB official and took on board their criticisms.

The 65-year-old said it was also important for the West to see both sides of the story.

"The 21st century will be full of religious and tribal wars unless we start to find a way to tolerate our differences."

He said Russia and Chechnya were "two nations that are hostages of prejudice and religious intolerance".

Occupied asylum

"September 11 is the future, not last century," he said.

"To get over it, you have to realise that not every dark-skinned man in a headscarf is bad.

"The Western world is getting extremely cautious of any Arab, which is sad but true."

In the running for the Golden Lion, the film shows Russian soldiers occupying the asylum and fighting the war around its patients, many of whom were played by mentally ill members of a Moscow hospital.

John Malkovich
Malkovich plays a psychopath
Among the twists is a cameo appearance by rock star Bryan Adams, the subject of fantasies from one of the patients.

The conflict is still fresh in people's minds outside after 1999's new Russian offensive and the recent deaths of 100 Russians in two downed helicopters.

Konchalovsky added: "The Chechens have been fighting for their cultural identity for years."

Meanwhile, John Malkovich launched new film Ripley's Game and said people were fascinated with psychopathic character Tom Ripley because he acted without conscience.

Subtle manipulations

Matt Damon played the obssessive killer in The Talented Mr Ripley, and the role has now been taken on by Malkovich.

Ripley is now an art dealer but is still surrounded by a web of subtle manipulations and murders.

"I think he's attractive to people because he acts without conscience and in his self-interest.

"Many people, deep in their id, would like to say, 'Well, why not just kill him? And if you don't feel bad about that, then why not?'

"I'm capable of understanding Ripley well, without particularly being like him."


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