Featuring a queer love story set during the height of the Cold War, Firebird is definitely a well-acted and well-shot movie. However, you will need to prepare yourself for the melodrama.
I was provided with a free digital screener of Firebird for review. The opinions I have shared are my own.
If you aren’t into watching heartbreaking queer stories, then Firebird won’t be for you. Based on Sergey Fetisov’s memoir The Story of Roman, this is a film that will emotionally gut-punch you on more than one occasion. Also, the melodrama can get very messy! Like very messy! If you’re okay with all of that, I highly recommend that you watch Firebird.
Opening at a Soviet-occupied Estonian Air Force Base in 1977, we get to meet Sergey (Tom Prior), who is thinking about what to do next once his conscription ends in a couple of weeks. Sergey’s best friend Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya), who also has a crush on him, is a secretary who wants to become a doctor. But things change for the two friends when fighter pilot Roman Medveyev (Oleg Zagorodnii) enters the picture.
Due to his interest in photography, Sergey grows closer to Roman. There’s definitely a spark between them. Sergey also opens up to him about wanting to do theatre and that leads to Roman taking him to watch Igor Stravinsky‘s The Firebird.
One can also assume the name of this movie links to the fighter jets that Roman’s passionate about flying. Also, during a scene where Roman and Sergey are being intimate with each other and are about to reach climax while submerged waist-deep in water, two jets fly overhead to visualize them reaching completion. So, yeah, make of the title what you will.
Now, some viewers could feel that Sergey and Roman falling in love occurred too quickly. However, considering the approximate 107 minutes-long runtime and how the narrative spans more than four years, I think some developments had to occur quickly to keep the story moving.
While Sergey and Roman continue their secret and highly risky relationship (there’s been an anonymous report filed about Roman allegedly hooking up with a young private), Luisa also begins to have feelings for Roman. While she has ambitions and dreams of her own, being a woman, she’s expected to settle down and start a family. And Roman’s definitely attractive and nice. Of course, it becomes apparent Luisa will play the role many women have played in such queer stories – the one where she will be collateral damage of falling in love and marrying a closeted gay guy.
Even though the narrative focused on Sergey and Roman’s relationship, it also continued exploring Sergey’s bond with Luisa. The final moments of the film finally allowed both of them to have a confrontation and express their love for Roman (after his unfortunate fate) as well as their feelings for each other. And while I appreciated Luisa getting the chance to share her emotions, when all is said and done, Luisa is still another example of the numerous wronged women that have come before her in such type of storytelling. Even their mutual friend was angry and disappointed Sergey played an active role in ruining Luisa’s marriage with Roman, especially with how Sergey apparently thinks of Luisa as family. Like I said. This film can get very messy!
I do think the constant melodrama, especially after the first half, did Firebird no favors. But then again, I haven’t read The Story of Roman. So, maybe all of the messy stuff did happen, even if it was amped up in the live-action adaptation.
Having said that, I did appreciate how the narrative differed from the norm. What I mean is that in Firebird, the more openly gay character, Sergey, is able to live a comparatively more fulfilling life as a theatre actor than Roman, who decided to remain in the closet to continue serving in the military. A lot of times, in such stories, the more openly queer person gets the short end of the stick. And in a way, even though this film’s full of heartbreak, one can imagine Sergey moving on and being able to find someone else to love.
I also liked some of the tense moments that occurred due to Roman being observed because of the anonymous report. Whenever the two tried to come close, I prepared myself for someone finding out about them. There’s one particularly intense moment where a certain someone enters Roman’s tiny apartment and Sergey has to hide.
As for the overall construction of Firebird, this indie offering is beautifully shot and well-acted. I loved every location the characters found themselves in. The camera work is also impressive. Even when in enclosed places, for example, during the scenes in Roman’s apartment, the characters don’t feel to be all up in your face. They are close enough to the camera to help with creating a sense of visual immersion, but far enough as not to distract from your viewing experience.
Directed by Peter Rebane, who co-wrote with Prior, Firebird was created to help connect with a wide audience and share that how even in 2021, a lot hasn’t changed for the queer community around the world.
“We live at a time when basic human rights, equality and freedom are still under attack around the world,” shared director Peeter Rebane. “My goal with Firebird is to reveal how different family models have survived even in the most repressed societies, like the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Firebird is a story about accidental love, crossing the border of friendship and searching for one’s identity in a repressive society. Now is the time to tell this true story, to foster greater respect for the universal human right: to love and be loved.”
In my opinion, it does get the intended message across. There are a couple of moments where Sergey has to be bold about stating how his love for Roman isn’t any different from the love straight people felt. Life would have been very different for Roman and Sergey if they weren’t born or didn’t fall in love with each other during very homophobic times. And again, even today, countless queer people around the world continue to face homophobia (including being sent to prison, undergoing torture, and being outright killed), for wanting to express their truth. And unfortunately, similar to Roman, many gay men do end up marrying women and have children to be accepted by society and gain some kind of security.
As a part of Outfest2021, Firebird had its in-person screening on August 21, 2021. Virtual screenings are being held from today until August 24, 2021. You can get your tickets here.
Have you had the chance to watch Firebird? What did you think?
Let us know.
Farid has a Double Masters in Psychology and Biotechnology as well as an M.Phil in Molecular Genetics. He is the author of numerous books including Missing in Somerville, and The Game Master of Somerville. He gives us insight into comics, books, TV shows, anime/manga, video games, and movies.
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