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‹ Flicks with The Film Snob

Petrov’s Flu

June 8, 2024
Flicks with The Film Snob
Flicks with The Film Snob
Petrov's Flu

It’s not often that a movie manages to summarize the spiritual malaise of an entire nation, while using a kaleidoscopic hallucinatory style with shifting time periods and identities to scale the heights and plumb the depths of the human soul. I use such hyperbolic language because I find it otherwise too difficult to describe the effect of Petrov’s Flu, the extraordinary film by Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov.

We start out on a bus, with a group of sullen passengers, some of whom are arguing. Petrov, a grimy looking man in an overcoat and wool cap played by Semyon Serzin, is coughing as he pays the fare, explaining that he has the flu. Petrov’s flu, as the film is cleverly titled, will continue throughout the film. Among other things, it signals the contagious atmosphere of corruption and degradation in Russian society.

Petrov will be asked to exit the bus twice: one of the times, where he’s made to serve in a firing squad, only occurs, it would appear, in his fantasy. The film thus begins its full-length strategy of presenting thoughts and fantasies as objectively happening, and this shifting back and forth between the world and realms of the mind is one of the more exciting and challenging aspects of Petrov’s Flu.

The story takes place in the year 2000 or thereabouts, at the very beginning of Putin’s first term, although of course Putin is never named. The movie expands into multiple characters. Petrov’s ex-wife works at a library, and while working late because of a poetry workshop, she hears one of the old poets being sexist. Her eyes go black, and she then beats the living hell out of him, as if she was some kind of super ninja. I should say that sudden violence does occur in the film, although in this case it comes off as hilarious. And once again, fantasy.

Like a dream, the film coalesces around several odd locations. One is a van in which Petrov and his sinister friend Igor is riding in the back with a dead guy in a coffin. Later, the story goes around that the dead man got out of the coffin and walked away. A grotesque resurrection as metaphor for Russian life.

In the film’s middle section, another of Petrov’s friends, an aspiring but bitter author who’s threatening suicide (reminding me of Dostoevsky’s fiction) is the subject of a spectacular 18-minute tracking shot through multiple locations, both real and imagined. The film’s technique is constantly surprising.

Another odd place is a New Year’s party for children in which the legendary Snow Maiden helps light a tree. Home movie style footage shows Petrov as a child, with his weird but protective parents, who are apparently nudists at home. At the end of this flashback, of which we’ve already had an earlier foreshadowing, he is holding the Snow Maiden’s hand at the party asking her if she’s real. “Yes, I’m real,” she says, “and you have a fever.”

Back in the present the young son of Petrov and Petrova has also caught the flu, with a dangerously high fever, and we explore the fear and desperation about possibly losing a child, especially in Petrov’s frantic imagination, which by the way we discover is that of a comic book artist.

Finally, the movie takes a startling turn. We’re in black and white now, the time appears to be the ‘70s, and we have a completely new main character, a young blonde woman. Who is she? Where have we seen her before? Petrov’s Flu is an extravagant and unsparing vision of our predicament.

corruption,   degradation,   dreaming,   Fantasy,   Russia,  


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