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Russia and the War: A Country in Dangerous Fever


Director Kirill Serebrennikov was harassed by the Putin regime. In exile in Berlin he can work freely again. Here he tells what his film »Petrov has a fever« has to do with the Ukraine war.

AreaRead the video transcript expand here

Film scene:


Why did he stop now?

What's going on now?

– Dear citizens, please do not worry!

This is a special operation by the FSB.

Mr. Petrov is asked to go out.”

Dragged off the bus by an alleged secret service agent, comic artist Petrov suddenly finds himself among shady characters on a vodka-clouded ride through a dark Russian city.

The Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov shot the film »Petrov's Flu – Petrow hat fever«, which has just been released in German cinemas, before he went into exile in Berlin in spring 2022.

At a meeting in the capital, he tells us why reasons other than the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine persuaded him to leave the country.

Kirill Serebrennikov, director:

»I don't like to think back to my life three or four years ago.

It was very dramatic, painful and hard then.«

Serebrennikov is probably Russia's best-known cultural dissident, a star of the international art scene.

For ten years he directed the Gogol Center in Moscow, the country's leading avant-garde theatre.

He never hid his homosexuality in the homophobic state.

In 2017, he felt the harshness of the regime with full force: Kirill Serebrennikov was arrested while filming in Moscow, presumably because of his clear criticism of the government.

In a mock trial, the Russian public prosecutor accuses the director of allegedly embezzling funding.

Kirill Serebrennikov, director:

»They put pressure on me not to say anything more.

They wanted to ban this theater.

The authorities want to abolish the kind of culture that I do.

It's not just about me, it's about a lot of people creating this free culture.

Fear is very important to the regime, it holds it together.

In their eyes, people have too much freedom without fear.”

The director is initially placed under house arrest and an electronic ankle bracelet is put on.

In 2020, Serebrennikov was sentenced to a three-year suspended sentence.

At the end of March 2022, his travel ban had just been lifted, the artist left Russia.

In his new adopted home of Berlin, he feels free again.

He says he is not afraid of reprisals from the Russian regime.

He is currently rehearsing for a music theater piece in his studio, which will be shown in Hamburg's Thalia Theater from May.

The opportunity to work so much gives him hope and new energy.

Kirill Serebrennikow, director:

»It forms your spine and gives you muscles.

She forces you not to slip forever.

It gives you purpose, purpose and drive.

work makes you alive.

And we need a lot of strength to overcome this terrible chaos.«

Serebrennikov did not have this freedom when he was shooting the film "Petrov Has a Fever" in Moscow.

At the time he was struggling with the Russian judiciary.

Kirill Serebrennikov, director:

»We mainly shot the film at night between all this court chaos.

During the day I had to answer stupid questions to the authorities.

The team slept during the day, I slept in the courtroom and we worked at night.

That's why almost all scenes take place at night.«

Insane and surreal - the mood of his film is very close to reality in today's Russia, the director tells us.

The film hero Petrov is plagued by a feverish flu, and so he never knows whether he is just hallucinating or actually experiencing it.

For Kirill Serebrennikov, Russian society suffers from a subconscious smoldering propensity to violence.

In his film, he conveys this idea in the form of Petrov's wife Petrowa.

She works in a library and keeps imagining how she hunts down men who have become violent.

Movie scene:


May I take it?

The blood must be wiped off the floor.

It makes me sick.

- Have you ever boxed?

– Oh, I saw that in the cinema once.

It just happened to work.«

Kirill Serebrennikov, director:

»All this violence is probably the result of childhood trauma, from everything that has happened in families in Russia in recent years.

I firmly believe that you shouldn't start a war all of a sudden.

It is always a result of great tension and palpable pressure that destroys you from within.

And then you have to find a way out somehow.«

In the film, Petrov finds this way out thanks to art.

The feverish hero and his neighbors escape from madness into poetry and singing together.

Movie scene:


Slow whales leave their shores.

Because they are at home everywhere.

They are told to beware of sandbars, buoys and nets.

But they say: We don't care.'

To flee Russia – even Kirill Serebrennikov would not have managed it without help.

Rich people would have covered his legal costs, including the oligarch Roman Abramovich, who was said to have a cautiously loyal relationship with Vladimir Putin.

Serebrennikov caused heated debates at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival for calling for sanctions against Abramovich to be lifted.

Kirill Serebrennikov, director:


He gave me money for this film, he supported this independent project.

It was filmed without government funding from the Ministry of Culture.

So this private money came from Abramovich and other people.”

The star director brought beloved works of art to Berlin from his office in Moscow's Gogol Center, including these Mexican-looking skulls, which, however, represent the 15 former Soviet states.

In his studio, Serebrennikov collects objects from a wide variety of countries, and he consciously uses them for his theater projects – in contrast to the equalizing culture prescribed by the Russian state.

With »Petrov has a fever« he wants to explain to his viewers the Russian nature and the reasons for the war - although the film was made long before the invasion of Ukraine.

Kirill Serebrennikov, director:

»This war is suicide.

It's not just an invasion against Ukraine.

It is a suicidal war because Russia is destroying itself.

Unfortunately, the country I knew and the country I grew up in no longer exists.

It has become something else.«

Source: spiegel

All life articles on 2023-01-28

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