Petrov’s Flu (2021)

Petrov’s Flu by Kirill Serebrennikov is hallucinogenic, violent and disturbing – a post-apocalyptic vision of present or future applicable in any country where politics trumps people.

Pandemic alert

by Alexa Dalby

Petrov’s Flu

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Though Petrov’s Flu is an adaptation of Alexey Salnikov’s pre-pandemic award-winning novel, for us now to see someone coughing uncontrollably on public transport, as Petrov does on a steamy, crowded bus in the opening sequence, is more deeply disquieting than it would have been previously. Ground-down bus passengers complain about the government and immigrants, something else that gives the film topicality. Then, inexplicably, Petrov is dragged off the bus by police or army into the snow to man a firing squad.

Set in the wintry dark of the remote eastern city of Yekaterinburg, the film is a hallucinatory, pessimistic satire of Russian life. It lurches back and forth between Petrov’s present and past, between what may be reality and fantasy, so that it’s hard – almost impossible – to distinguish between them.

Petrov (Semyon Serzin) is a sci-fi comic book artist, first seen roaming the night-time streets with a seedy acquaintance (Yuri Kolokolnikov) and a bottle or two of vodka, and hitching a lift in a hearse. He makes it home to his librarian wife (Chulpan Khamatova), who may be a superhero-cum-serial killer at work, and their very poorly daughter, for whom they have difficulty getting a doctor. He visits a suicidal writer friend (Ivan Dorn), who works reluctantly in a garage and is living in miserable, lonely squalor. There’s a Russian winter-frost celebration party that may have emerged from delirious Petrov’s childhood memories or his imagination.

Director Kirill Serebrennikov’s (The Student) Petrov’s Flu is black in humour and palette. It was originally staged for the theatre. Everything in Petrov’s benighted city is broken down, dilapidated and dismal. The feeling is post-apocalyptic. People get more sick, not better. And Petrov’s day in this life seems ultimately futile. The film is shocking and violent. But it’s also a highly cinematic, pyrotechnic wild ride – if you survive.

Petrov’w Flu screened at the Cannes Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival an is released on 11 February 2022 in the UK.

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