Kirill Serebrennikov (of Uchenik, 2016, and Leto, 2018) brings Petrov’s Flu to this year’s London Film Festival – although the director himself is not in attendance, unable to travel until 2023, due to embezzlement charges in his native Russia. On a cold and dreary New Year’s Eve, Petrov (Semyon Sermin), a comic book artist and mechanic who looks like he could check out of life at any minute, fights what he tells people is common flu, although a woman on the bus tells him it looks like cancer. His wife Petrova (Chulpon Khamatova) works as a librarian, and seems like an average woman until a man at her poetry discussion group turns violent, her eyes turn black and she becomes The Bride from Kill Bill, with, admittedly, some spectacularly choreographed fight scenes.
As the couple fight the flu and try to keep their sons away from it, in Petrov’s fevered mind they become violent vigilantes. Petrova stabs a man repeatedly as if it comes naturally to her; Petrov shoves an old man off a bus with ease (despite his health) for speaking inappropriately to a young girl. The narrative then shifts to a POV of Petrov as a young child when his mother brings him to a New Year’s Eve party for children and they meet a young actress. The audience is then launched into her story. The film emulates a stifling delirious dream, constantly switching from past to present through different perspectives, morphing reality with hallucination.
There is excessive nudity: Petrov’s parents dress him and eat breakfast whilst fully naked; there are multiple shots of women in a communal shower. This adds nothing to the story and gives the film an uncomfortable voyeuristic feel. In the points of view of both Petrov and his son, they look down the tops and backs of women. The aforementioned man thrown from the bus says to a nine-year-old girl, “You could be screwing your husband for two years by now,” referring to the fact girls can be married off at seven in India. The misogyny is palpable.
Striving to create an auteur landscape of illness and a hallucinatory narrative, Serebrennikov lets himself down with unrelatable characters, sexist undercurrents and, ultimately, an unenjoyable viewing experience, especially for women.
Petrov’s Flu is released digitally on demand on 11th February 2022.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.