Review by Sean Boelman
Kirill Serebrennikov is one of the most acclaimed Russian filmmakers working today, but his films are very unorthodox in nature. Petrov’s Flu is about as bizarre as they come, and while its inconsistent tone can be a bit much, the things that Serebrennikov does with the form is nothing short of fascinating.
The movie follows a family living in post-Soviet Russia as they get sick and begin drifting in and out of reality. It’s a very expressionist film, and for those who are willing to put up with some of the more abstract moments, it can be a rewarding glimpse into a society that is very different from our own.
Serebrennikov’s movie is certainly very politically charged, which is ultimately the case with any of his films but is aggressively so here. While international audiences are unlikely to pick up on some of the more intricate references to the complexities of Russian politics, there are still messages in it that are quite universal.
One of the biggest obstacles the movie faces in reaching beyond its core art house audience is its substantial length. At nearly two and a half hours long, asking most viewers to sit through that much of a Russian art film might be a serious ask — especially given its experimental nature. Although there are thematic and narrative through-lines, this is the type of movie you feel more than you watch it for the plot.
Serebrennikov certainly uses disturbing and haunting imagery to his advantage in the movie. Some moments are brutal and shocking in a way that you will have hardly seen anything quite like this on film before. However, at a certain point, one has to wonder whether these excessively graphic images actually justify their existence by serving the movie’s message, or if they go too far. Often, the answer is the latter.
On the opposite side of the coin, Serebrennikov infuses the film with stylistic flairs to give it an almost fantastical quality. Serebrennikov splits the difference between nightmarish and dreamlike, putting the viewer in a trancelike state. It manages to be alluring and unsettling at the same time, with results that are quite disorienting, but mostly in a good way.
Semyon Serzin delivers an extraordinary performance in his leading role. It’s a role where he very easily could have ridden on the coattails of the strong messaging and imagery, but he brings an added layer of depth to the role. Although the movie is hardly subtle in anything it does, Serzin captures the complexities of the character well.
Petrov’s Flu is certainly a very interesting formal experiment, even when its content doesn’t always work. Fans of weird art films are certainly going to enjoy the bizarre quirks and ambitious political messaging of the movie, but its unorthodox nature will be off-putting to others.
Petrov’s Flu hits theaters and VOD on September 23.