Petrov’s Flu is an entirely maximalist formal exercise, one boasting a technical bravura that will impress as many as it puts off.
A smoker’s cough that sounds like a death rattle; an overcrowded, sweaty bus; a band of mercenaries ready to arm anyone who steps off with an assault weapon: Kirill Serebrennikov’s Petrov’s Flu‘s in medias res opening imparts almost no information, but plenty of sensorial hints at the upcoming pyrotechnics of the following 140 minutes. Beyond matters of narrative and genre — beneath it all is the skeleton of a piece of post-apocalyptic fiction, a perpetually winterized Russia in the chokehold of a flu epidemic — is the irksome proof that we are now in a post-Gaspar Noé film festival climate, where an incorrigible extremism of creativity overflows to the point of clogging anything that’d actually let a film breathe. Petrov’s Flu resists categorization, encourages polemical platitudes, and disrupts its otherwise stunning stasis to once again throw in an “impossible” camera move.
Long, long takes, paired with repeated settings, stamp Petrov’s Flu with an indeterminate temporality, a quality Serebrennikov exploits across the punishing runtime, an emphasis on aesthetic fluidity that mutes the tangential possibilities of the eponymous comic-book artist (Semyon Serzin) through a variety of quite unpleasant scenarios. Interiority is mostly eschewed, heavy drinking and general destitution bringing audible despair to the surface, and the film attaches a series of shouting matches to its hallucinatory wanderings. Somewhere, there is a plot strand of moderate familial strife, Petrov being nominally separated from his wife, Petrova (Chulpan Khamatova), who herself is inundated with Serebrennikov’s violent formalism. The camera wends its way around the characters like in the work of Béla Tarr and Aleksei German, and it’s left to the viewer to decide just how much this technical bravura actually imparts for them.