Kirill Serebrennikov made an appearance by FaceTime on Monday after the premiere of “Petrov’s Flu,” which bowed in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. The 51-year-old helmer is banned from leaving Russia and was unable to attend the opening.

“I would like to thank everyone who is here. This is the first time that I am showing my film,” Serebrennikov told the audience. “I am obviously delighted and I am celebrating this 21st century which, thanks to new technologies, allows us to be together.”

This year marks the second no-show on the Croisette for the Russian director, after he was forced to skip the 2018 premiere of competition title “Leto” while under house arrest. Serebrennikov was sentenced in June 2020 to a three-year suspended prison sentence and issued a fine over a case of embezzlement, on what his supporters say are trumped-up charges.

Walking the red carpet outside the Lumière Theater before the “Petrov’s Flu” premiere, the cast and producers wore red badges bearing the director’s photo and initials. An empty seat was symbolically reserved for Serebrennikov inside the theater.

The film, which is adapted from an award-winning 2018 novel by Alexei Salnikov and was written while Serebrennikov was under house arrest, is a deadpan, hallucinatory romp through a post-Soviet Russia in the grips of a mysterious flu epidemic.

Variety‘s Guy Lodge described it as a film “that moves as freely and recklessly as possible, untethered by short-leash rules of time, space or storytelling,” and praised it as “a rowdy, exhilarating return to top form for Serebrennikov.”

Speaking to Variety before the film’s premiere, the director described the experience of making “Petrov’s Flu” while standing trial in a Moscow court as living “parallel lives,” adding that “the film process helped me not to think about all this absurd, Kafkan process.”

Commenting on the 20-month period of house arrest, Serebrennikov described himself as “a pioneer of isolation,” deadpanning, “Now it’s a global trend.” But the director waxed philosophical about a creatively fruitful period that led to his second straight Cannes competition premiere, adding: “Focusing on yourself is not really bad. Sometimes it opens a lot of new sources for the future, for the next step in your life. You need to find something really good in this isolation. And it’s possible.”