The perils of public transport are undeniable and unavoidable: the unwashed masses packed in, opinions flying as thick as germs, on the state of the former Soviet Union and the leaders who oversaw its demise, on the immigrant situation, on the best way to avoid the wrath of the conductor when you are unable to pay the fare, all mingled with the miasma which fogs Petrov’s brain and lungs.
Petrov’s flu persistent and infuriating, it is another weariness in the weight of his life, an artist determined to find the time to complete the comic strip he is working on despite interruptions from his acquaintance Igor, recently come into possession of a stolen hearse complete with coffin and corpse, the needs of his young son, and his wife’s poetry group with a mortality rate that should cause concern for bibliophiles.
Written and directed by Kirill Serebrennikov, Petrov’s Flu (Petrovy v grippe, Петровы в гриппе) is adapted from Aleksey Salnikov’s novel The Petrovs In and Around the Flu (Petrovy v grippe i vokrug nego, Петровы в гриппе и вокруг него), a stream of disturbed consciousness as the beleaguered and infectious Petrov (Semyon Serzin) and those around him suffer through the surreal events of their lives, a Gordian knot of cause and effect, circumstance and coincidence.
Mrs Petrova (Chulpan Khamatova) understandably irritable as she is forced to emerge from where she hides amongst the precarious stacks of books to use her special librarian skills to end a fight which has broken out following a dispute over the appropriate duration of performance, Petrov is similarly exasperated by the fictionalised version of himself depicted in the homoerotic rejected manuscript of his friend Seryozha, determined that literary immortality can only be achieved in death.
Set around the New Year celebrations, a costume party to be attended by Petrov’s son, the dream of the space age and Christmas are portrayed as equivalent in the Russian psyche, Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova as magical as Father Frost and the Snow Maiden, Sputnik a Christmas tree bauble, flashbacks wrapping back on themselves from different perspectives and Petrov still looking to the skies and hoping to glimpse a flying saucer to change the squandered destiny of his crumbling nation.
By turns engaging, exasperating, abstract and impenetrable, a creation of the theatre of cacophony where every moment must be filled, Petrov’s Flu is also contagious with only aspirin from the days of disco to act as remedy to the feverish nightmare which demands that the threads be unravelled while offering few clues, the flowing ambition of Russian Ark set in stained tenements rather than glittering palaces, scene transitions mediated by tearing down backdrops as childhood hope is torn away to reveal the adult disillusionment it concealed.
Petrov’s Flu will be released in UK cinemas on Friday 11th February