After the exceptional films “(M) uchenik” and “Leto”, one of the leading current Russian filmmakers Kiril Srebrenikov made the most avant-garde film so far, an anarchic and chaotic, surreal grotesque located halfway between dream and reality, nightmare and fantasy. “Petrov’s Group” or “Petrov’s Flu” premiered in Cannes, and as in the previous film, Srebrenikov was banned from leaving Russia and could not walk the red carpet along the Cote d’Azur. I think I have already written in the review of “Leta” about his problems with the law and the fictitious process he has been facing for the last few years, which has made it impossible for him to record for some time.
Before he started making films, Srebrenikov had already become one of the leading Russian theater directors of his generation (the man was born in 1969) and since 2012 has been the artistic director of the Gogol Center in Moscow, Russia’s leading avant-garde theater. As he was extremely critical of the Russian regime in his plays, and later in films, accusations that he was involved in financial fraud and multimillion-dollar fraud tried to silence him. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly warned about this process, protest notes have been sent by many European artists, Srebrenikov had to spend some time under house arrest, and in mid-2020 he was given a suspended sentence, fined and banned from leaving the country.
And just as this artist’s life has turned into complete chaos in the last few years, into a terrifying Kafkaesque nightmare without end, so does this subversive grotesque, wild fantasy by which Srebrenikov once again confirms that he is a fantastic director and author of incredible vision. Alexei Salnikov’s avant-garde novel of the same name served as a template, and the plot was set in the post-Soviet 1990s in the city of Yekaterinburg on New Year’s Eve. The main character is Petrov (Semjon Serzin), a car mechanic who fell ill with the flu. He is divorced from the librarian’s wife Petrova (Chulpan Hamatova) with whom he has a son, and from the introductory, chaotic scene in the crowded tram when Petrov realizes that he is ill, it is clear that it will be anything but an ordinary film.
There is no clear narrative line and everything here seems completely nightmarish, just like when a person suffers from the flu and under a high temperature, sweating and not knowing what is reality and what is a nightmare. It is a film in which the boundaries of reality and fantasy are completely erased, so it seems that Petrov’s wife (who also fell ill, just like their son) has some special super powers. From one story there is just another, we soon realize that Petrov’s hobby is drawing comics and that he is working on an avant-garde comic. He will run into a con man named Igor who can mix the world of the living and the dead, and all members of Petrov’s family will experience more and more surreal hallucinations in which the line between reality and fantasy will be increasingly erased.
Of course, “Petrov’s Flu” will not be a film to everyone’s taste, but I really liked this wild fantasy. At one point, somewhere in the beginning, it seemed to me that Srebrenica’s role model was found in the films of another Russian avant-garde filmmaker Alexei German, but as time went on, it turned out that this was a film I really haven’t had a chance to watch. Visually, all this looks perfect, the transitional misery of Russia in the 1990s, almost Stalker’s rust, neglect and ruin of buildings and even people is emphasized to the extreme. The film is completely open to different interpretations and anyone who watches “Petrov’s Flu” can interpret what they saw in their own way, and it seems to me that there is a lot of subversive, allegorical, symbolic and that this is another powerful provocation of this Russian creative. Rating 8/10.
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