Director – Kirill Serebrennikov – 2021 – Russia – Cert. 18 – 145m
The stream of consciousness existence of an urban, Russian comic book artist who has the ‘flu – out in cinemas on Friday, February 11th
Despite being under the weather with the ‘flu, city dweller Petrov (Semyon Serzin) is trying his best to carry on as normal. Not so easy when you’re out of it. His nightmare starts with a bus journey. A nine-year-old girl kindly offers him her seat, but before he’s sat down, someone else seems to have taken it. A misogynist old man talks to the girl, telling her that often girls her age are married off and possibly already cheating on their husbands.
Before the old misogynist knows it, someone has had the bus stopped so the he can be thrown off, losing his false teeth in the process which Petrov picks up and which subsequently function like an intermittent Greek chorus, albeit one that doesn’t make any particular sense, throughout the remainder of the narrative. Then Petrov’s mate Igor (Yuri Kolokolnikov), who’s been pursuing the bus in a hearse, complete with coffined corpse, stops it to commandeer Petrov off the bus and into shooting an automatic rifle at victims as part of an impromptu firing squad.
Librarian wife Petrova (Chulpan Kamatova), meanwhile, is concerned that a punter borrowing books on first de Sade and concentration camps then gynaecology might be the local serial killer. She thinks nothing of either violently assaulting a rapist trying it on with a female punter on her watch or engaging in frenzied sex with Petrov himself between the shelves while the local poets are having a meeting ten yards away.
That gives something of the insane flavour of what’s on offer here. It’s impossible to tell how much is supposed to be real and how much going on in Petrov’s head – he is an artist composing a comic strip after all – yet the film carries on for the best part of two and a half hours in similar bravura fashion, detouring towards the end into a lengthy black and white flashback about the romantic life of a woman who plays the Snow Maiden at a children’s Christmas party to which Petrov takes his son, who in due course goes down with a high temperature.
There are sequences in which children see (or imagine) their parents, particularly their fathers, momentarily or permanently without clothes, which has the strange effect of reducing them down to some sort of lowest common denominator.
An adaptation of Alexey Salnikov’s novel The Petrovs In and Around the Flu, it may well be that that book is the source of the onscreen, hallucinatory madness that pervades the piece. It’s much more of a romp than the director’s earlier, religious / political satire The Student (2016), but no less impressive. It doesn’t exactly make you want to visit Russia, but there’s no denying the sheer energy throughout, or the considerable skill with which the director marshalls his resources to bring his vision together.
Petrov’s Flu is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, February 11th.