Like a misaligned car hurtling through an icy landscape only partially visible but poetic and sharp when it is, Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov’s stream-of-consciousness-bender “Petrov’s Flu” is no ordinary journey. But it’s a ride, an imperiously propelling post-Soviet delirium about a divorced comic artist who, coughing and hallucinating, picks his way through a bleak, chilly night/day of detours, confrontations, memories, and fatherly responsibilities.
What is real and what is not is part of Serebrennikov’s balancing act in adapting compatriot Alexey Salnikov’s 2016 novel, which has yet to be translated into English – we always seem to be in the eye of the peculiar Russian storm, dealing with external pressures and ourselves with deal with the inner demons. Her specimen, Petrov, played by Semyon Serzin, makes his debut in a packed wide-angle shot of a standing room night car, his flu symptoms striking, as well as the various irritations and prejudices of his fellow passengers. A man complains that Gorbachev is selling the land. Another has his teeth knocked out after molesting a little girl in a misogynistic manner.
In the commotion, Petrov packs the choppers and is escorted off the bus by a mysterious figure named Igor (Yuri Kolokolnikov), who for some reason seeks his company. Later, after our protagonist has spent time in a van with a dead body, witnessed a costumed Christmas parade from his Soviet-era childhood while on an aspirin high, and assisted in a suicide/arson attack, these teeth will speak to him at his lonely work table too home, and at that point it will seem normal. It’s that kind of movie.
His librarian Petrova (Chulpan Khamatova) also seems to exist on a knife edge. She dutifully stays late to oversee a poets’ club meeting, but when one of the boastful guests misbehaves, her eyes go jet black and she is suddenly strong enough to beat him bloody. But did it really happen? Serebrennikov’s artful handling of internal and external states does not offer easy answers, but we can sense a palpable tension in the uncertainty these shifts create. At a certain point, Petrov meets a woman who doesn’t seem crazy but tells him that her son has the power to see the future and heal people. Is that just dangerous coping?
An everyday realism sets in when Petrov and Petrova get together at his apartment to see if their elementary school-age boy, who is suddenly showing signs of Dad’s fever, is well enough to attend his school’s New Year’s Eve party. When the frame then contracts to a boxy 8mm, it signals that we entered a POV memory of Petrov preparing to attend the same event as a boy, culminating in a moment that will forever linger in stuck in his brain: the beautiful lady playing Snow White was holding his hand and showing concern.
was you real? The last act of Serebrennikov’s film seems to suggest this, rendered by cinematographer Vladislav Opelyants in the black and white of the Golden Age art film. It is the story of Marina (Yulia Peresild), a young married woman who faces a difficult decision about her life and is reluctantly drawn to take on a certain role at her actor-husband’s strictly organized New Year’s party.
Tumbling and rolling through space and time, with comedy and violence coloring the malaise in fits and starts, Petrov’s Flu is indeed like being in the lingering illness of a troubled, turbulent nation. Who wouldn’t start seeing things? But somehow the film never feels like a miserable wallow, thanks to bold controls, brilliant direction and a strong humanity – particularly when portraying the calm that Kunst Petrov’s creation bestows. Just a dizzying body and brain scan.
Serebrennikov, a notorious iconoclast who has had his share of clashes with his government, didn’t even make an angry film with “Petrov’s Flu.” In its interlocking parts and intentionally impenetrable details, Serebrennikov wants you to know that being Russian is too complicated to foreground a feeling or experience, or rely on the safety of the linear, when one day how can feel anything and everything. This brazenly packaged film isn’t for everyone. Both, we understand, is not Russian.
In Russian with English subtitles
Duration: 2 hours, 26 minutes
To play: Begins October 7, Laemmle Glendale
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2022-10-06/review-petrovs-flu-russia-drama ‘Petrov’s Flu’ review: From Russia with delirum