Review: Petrov’s Flu
by Jan Lumholdt
- CANNES 2021: Two-and-a-half hours of Russianness at its most feverish, when served right, can be quite a sight, as proven by Kirill Serebrennikov
“Your poem is too long – in the 1970s, they prided themselves on doing short ones!” Words to this effect are exclaimed by a fatigued member of a Russian poetry club as she interrupts a particularly meandering reading. The ensuing ruckus, involving a prim librarian dishing out some mean, gravity-defying, almost Asian-choreographed action kicks, is quite a sight, and a bloody one at that. It’s surreal moments like these that perk up the Cannes competition entry Petrov’s Flu [+see also:
film profile], which, with its two-and-a-half-hour playing time, toys fearlessly with both the meandering and the fatiguing parts.
It’s been three years since multitalented Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov released his previous film, Leto [+see also:
interview: Ilya Stewart
film profile], which played the Cannes competition in 2018. Since then, he’s had his own share of ruckuses, to put it mildly: accused of embezzlement (alleged, never proven, and brought up in timely fashion in connection with his assorted criticisms of the government and his LGBT support), he was under a 20-month house arrest until June last year, when he got his sentence suspended. Petrov’s Flu was created in this time of newfound freedom (of sorts) and feels like that crusted-over bottle of ketchup that finally gives way. Splash, and lots of it goes all over the place – time-, space- and story-wise.
The serving is nonetheless succulent, right from the opening shot in a crowded tram in an uncouth, never-named town (why not Asbest?), where our resilient protagonist, a car mechanic-cum-comic book artist named Petrov, may have a bad cough (lead actor Semyon Serzin is a very good bad cougher) – but at least it’s not cancer, just a case of flu. His wife, Petrova, is none other than the aforementioned librarian with unexpected super powers (Chulpan Khamatova, a good kicker). Needless to say, she also has the flu.
It’s all based on a 2018 novel called The Petrovs in and Around the Flu, written by local cult favourite Alexei Salnikov. The story, or stories – and here there are many – plays out like The Saragossa Manuscript drenched in Stolichnaya. A New Year’s Eve party with a shaggy Father Frost and a lackadaisical Snow Queen accompanied by a feverish Vivaldi interpretation on the accordion gets particularly conspicuous attention, at times ending up being greatly exhaustive to the viewer. The pay-off arrives in a long and seemingly separate story, exchanging the grainy, earth-coloured images for some beautiful black-and-white ones, and finally weaving things together back on the tram.
It’s safe to say that precious few of the people in a fully packed Grand Théâtre Lumière mid-festival (in this curious 2021 edition) were able to decode the myriad Cyrillic goings-on, but the warm, post-145-minute applause was enthusiastic. A not-quite-dead body in a coffin and many a thought-provoking comment on assorted aspects of Russianness may certainly have aided enjoyment of the experience.
Petrov’s Flu is a Russian-Swiss-French-German co-production staged by Hype Production, Bord Cadre Films, ARTE France Cinéma, Logical Pictures, Charades and Razor Film Produktion. Its international sales have been entrusted to Charades.
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