Petrov’s Flu movie review and movie summary (2022)

After a while, a van interrupts the bus and stops it. The back door opens and an animated man with a bald pate beckons Petrov to get off the bus and join him in the van, the back of which has a coffin in it and is heavily decorated with roses. Once inside, Petrov shows off the nifty lighting system for this not-quite hearse. His host, Igor, wants to take him on a visit. Where?

Well, that’s the question. Lest you take my four-star review as high praise intended for a general audience, let me clarify. This very Russian film is completely phantasmagorical and non-linear, which is to say difficult to follow. The experience is more like an interactive puzzle than anything else, if you can imagine such a thing, and by the end you won’t be sure if all the pieces finally fit into place after all.

In a synopsis of the film I’ve read, Petrov is described as an auto mechanic. In another, as a comic artist. I believe in the reality of the movie, he is the latter, but I can understand why people might be confused. This is a hallucinatory flu, the scope of which you may not fully understand until you see that each of the amazing actors in this, all unknown quantities in the United States, play multiple roles in this billowing, expansive universe.

As Petrov (Semyon Serzin) wanders through his interior, his estranged wife Petrova (Chulpan Khamatova) experiences its own unending stress. She works as a librarian and is required to stay late at Poetry Night, and when one of the contestants blows a fuse, Petrova’s eyes turn black, just like Ray Milland’s at the end of “X: The Man with X-Ray Eyes” , and she develops superpowers that allow her to bloody overthrow the perpetrator. Meanwhile, their son has a very real fever that worries them greatly. But the son is determined to go to the New Year’s dance, and Petrov is determined to take him along. In a 1.37 frame, Petrov recalls his own experience of a New Year’s dance and how the young woman portraying a Snow Maiden, wearing a wig with blonde braids, took his fevered hand and told him how hot it was, while he now remembers the Snow Maiden’s hand as cold as ice.

In the last third of the film, the format shifts to a beautiful widescreen black and white, which tells the story of a young actress who wears a sweater in the same pattern that an older work colleague of Petrova knits today. Her tale is about love, unwanted pregnancy and being forced to portray the Snow Maiden at a New Year’s dance.

There is also bloody assisted suicide, subdued literary ambition, sublimated and unsublimated homosexuality, arson and a lot of drinking. It’s all staged and shot with conscientiousness and inventiveness, which is rarely seen in films from any country anymore. It is indeed a phantasmagoria, and perhaps an overload. The Honorable Critic Todd McCarthy compared the experience of watching it to “having a bunch of garbage shoved down your throat and piled on top of you until you just can’t take it anymore.” I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. The garbage is cultural garbage, memory, nostalgia, hopelessness, a system that has never worked and will never work. The characters here don’t really have a choice as far as “taking it”. At the film’s finale, Petrov, still ill but finally alone, simply chooses to carry on.

Now playing in select theaters.

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