The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - PETROV’S FLU | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review [Cinema] - PETROV’S FLU

petrov's flu review
A comic book writer wanders his city in a feverish daze.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Kirill Serebrennikov

Starring: Semyon Serzin, Yuri Kolokolnikov, Yuriy Borisov, Yuliya Peresild, Chulpan Khamatova

petrov's flu poster

Though he's been working since the late '90s, Russian filmmaker Kirill Serebrennikov pricked the ears and opened the eyes of international audiences with his most recent films, 2016's The Student and 2018's Leto. The former was an angry condemnation of Putin's Russia that many believe was the real reason for him being placed under house arrest soon after its release. The latter is a loving, nostalgic look back at the rock scene in Soviet era Russia.

Serebrennikov's latest sees him afforded a bigger budget and subsequently larger canvas than previous films. The money is certainly all up on the screen in Petrov's Flu, the cinematic equivalent of a prog rock double concept album with a gatefold sleeve. Like many prog rock albums, the musicianship is undeniable but some of the solos outstay their welcome.

petrov's flu review

Adapted from Alexey Salnikov's novel 'The Petrovs In and Around the Flu', the sprawling narrative of Petrov's Flu is chiefly focussed on the titular Petrov (Semyon Serzin), a comic book artist who spends a very Joycean day wandering his city while suffering a bad dose of a rapidly spreading flu (yes, it's another accidentally prescient film for our times).


Petrov's sickness causes him to suffer hallucinations and Serebrennikov blurs the lines between reality and his protagonist's fever dreams in a manner that makes you distrust what you're seeing. A dream will flip back to reality in a single extended take, often switching locations in a manner that's impossible geographically. From a filmmaking point of view it's incredibly impressive how Serebrennikov pulls this off, but it gradually becomes frustrating as our inability to distinguish reality from fantasy lowers the dramatic stakes. The scenarios Petrov finds himself in lose weight because we expect him to wake up at any moment like the hero of a lazy pupil's school essay.

petrov's flu review

Petrov's librarian wife Petrova (Chulpan Khamatova) similarly drifts in and out of dreams, though hers are more disturbing. She imagines herself enacting violence on obnoxious men, and she may well be an actual serial killer, but also fantasises about slitting her young son's throat. Again, with so many scenes revealed as fantasy, it's difficult to become invested in Petrova's plotline.


Elsewhere we're treated to flashbacks to Petrov's childhood in the Soviet era. Filmed from the perspective of a Tom and Jerry cartoon, there's something very tangible about how Serebrennikov captures childhood memories. Through the young Petrov's eyes, the world is magical, as embodied by a beautiful Snow Maiden (Yulia Peresild) who presides over a New Year's fancy dress party. It's notable that the fancy dress party of Petrov's childhood sees the children dressed as cosmonauts whereas his own son's equivalent bash is populated by kids kitted out as American superheroes. In the movie's most effective sequence we get a glimpse into the life of the Snow Maiden and the troubles unseen by the young Petrov.

petrov's flu review

Such flashbacks provide an emotional respite from what is otherwise an unrelentingly cynical view of modern Russia. Petrov is an indifferent witness to atrocities and testimonies, as though he's the hollowed out adult embodiment of the little boy from Come and See.

At two and a half hours it's an oppressive experience, but just as you might begin to feel overwhelmed by drudgery, Serebrennikov pulls off another dazzling piece of filmmaking. Taking his cues from his countrymen Tarkovsky and German, the director creates a world that always seems to be alive around his protagonist, who stumbles in and out of scenarios followed by the restless camera of cinematographer Vladislav Opelyants. The choreography of scenes is frankly incredible in parts. Serebrennikov plays his instrument like a virtuoso, but you may wish he struck some more emotive chords.

Petrov's Flu
 is in UK cinemas from February 11th.