BFI Flare Review: Firebird

DIRECTED BY

Peeter Rebane

STARRING

Tom Prior, Oleg Zagorodnii, Diana Pozharskaya, Nicholas Woodeson, Kaspar Velberg, Henessi Schmidt, Jake Henderson and Sten Karpov

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SYNOPSIS

At the height of the Cold War, a love triangle between a junior officer, his best friend and a handsome fighter pilot enters dangerous territory.

At the height of the cold War, a troubled soldier forms a forbidden love triangle with a daring fighter pilot and his female comrade amid the dangerous surroundings of a Soviet Air Force Base.

Firebird is based on Sergey Fetisov’s memoir The Story of Roman, with the script co-written by star Tom Prior and director Peeter Rebane. Homosexuality is illegal in the Soviet Air Force. Sergey is a troubled young private who is counting down the days till his military services ends when his life is turned upside down when he first encounters pilot Roman during his basic training and is immediately drawn to him, while his childhood friend Luisa, now a secretary to the base commander, also falls for the charms of Roman. As relations between the Soviet Union and the West reach boiling point, some senior officers become suspicious of the friendship between Sergey and Roman.

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The true story behind Firebird is one I wasn’t familiar with, but you can absolutely tell when watching this film that this film feels like a passion project from those involved, particularly the director and the lead star. I’m not too sure how authentic they are, but I did like the costume design work by Marjatta Nissinen and Mare Raidma when it came to the military uniforms. What makes the film compelling is not only its slow-build of the relationship between Sergey and Roman, which initially begins with a number of longing stares, to how the two try to see each other whilst on the base and how dangerous them being spotted together will be for the both of them, particularly in one tense scene which the Comrade Colonel asks Roman if he is familiar with Article 154A of the Criminal Code, being that sexual relations of a man with another man is punishable by five years imprisonment in a hard-labour camp. With the fear and tension that comes with being a gay person under Soviet Union rule, a triangle is created as Sergey’s friend Luisa becomes involved with Roman.

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Considering it’s Rebane’s directorial feature debut, I thought some scenes were very impressively done here, particularly in how certain scenes were lit and shot, from the embrace between Sergey and Roman in the water on the beach, to their copulation in Roman’s quarters. There’s even a flight sequence, despite some nitpicking of overall look of the visual FX that some people might point out to as a flaw, I thought it was pretty well executed. It’s interesting to see while Sergey and Roman have an obvious attraction to one another, they have their own reasons for holding back slightly from making themselves vulnerable and exposed in their relationship, as we learn of a certain tragedy in Sergey’s past gradually as the film progresses, whilst Roman not only has the Comrade Colonel in his ear subtly letting him know the consequences of being a homosexual under the current law, he also has to deal with the Comrade Major, who believes that the two of them are being way too ‘friendly’. Tom Prior and Oleg Zagorodnii both give really good performances as the torn-lovers Sergey and Roman.

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VERDICT

The true story behind Firebird is one I wasn’t familiar with, but Prior and Rebane handle the story with respect and despite some issues, I thought it was a decent film.

★★★