Passions fly between a fighter-pilot and a private, at a soviet air-base during the cold-war era in this 2021 film. Directed by Peter Rebane, ‘Firebird’ is based on the memoir of Sergey Fetisov titled ‘The Story of Roman’.
Tom Prior plays Sergey, a young private, who falls for the dashing Roman, portrayed by Oleg Zagordnii. The two soon start seeing each other, until murmurs of their relationship reaches the ears of some seniors. Fearing repercussions, Roman decides to settle for a heterosexual relationship with a female comrade Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya), who originally had a crush on Sergey. While most descriptions of this film call it a ‘love triangle’, it’s a frustratingly tragic story of two men pining for each other, wherein an unsuspecting woman becomes a victim of their deception, foisted on them due to the regressive societal attitude towards queer relationships.
Visually, the film is quite stunning, with some cold-war era battle action unfolding on screen. The two male leads have an easy onscreen chemistry, looking every bit like two people wildly drawn to each other. Tom Prior is captivating as the sensitive, sweet Sergey, who isn’t able to let go off his first love. The viewer would want to comfort Sergei, knock some sense into him so as to move on, but the poor boy is just not able to part with the past. A few years later, a married Roman worms his way back into Sergey’s life, who is studying drama in the capital.
I understand that this is based on a real-life story, but can’t some tweaks be made for an onscreen adaptation? What happened to ‘creative liberties’ when they are really needed? Because I wasn’t a fan of the extra-marital affair sub-plot. Roman is a shitty husband, who marries his ex-boyfriend’s closest friend, keeps her in the dark about his orientation and happily lives a double life. Not cool. So what begins as a sweet romance, turns into a problematic tale, where the protagonists are betraying someone close to them. Roman is an asshole who wants to have his cake and eat it too. Not the hero the film makes him out to be. Sorry Sergei, but you were blind in love.
Except for the problematic plot, everything else is visually pleasing in this movie, the actors are great, and the juxtaposition of the cold-war conflict versus the Moscow theater scene adds an interesting charm to it. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but the movie misses the emotional poignancy of films in the genre. You aren’t moved by the tragic climax. I remember crying along with Elio in that last scene of ‘Call Me By Your Name’, where he sobs by the fireplace, as the haunting track ‘Visions of Gideon’ by Sufjan Stevens plays in the background.
Nonetheless, ‘Firebird’ is worth a watch, after-all it isn’t every day that you get watch a LGBTQ+ story about Soviet era soldiers. It’s a 7/10 from me.
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