Firebird ★★★ – BFI Flare

Firebird ★★★ – BFI Flare

While Firebird is a very earnest film, it never allows itself to go through the gears of creating something as emotional as it needs to be. By doing this, Peeter Rebane’s film comes across as underwritten and fails to have us fall for the characters on the screen.

Sergey (Tom Prior) first encounters ace pilot Roman (Oleg Zagorordinii) during his basic training. His childhood friend Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya), now a secretary to the base commander, also falls for the dashing officer’s charms. Homosexuality is illegal in the Soviet Air Force, and some senior officers are suspicious of Sergey and Roman. Simultaneously, relations between the Soviet Union and the West are reaching boiling point. The threat of a catastrophic conflict suddenly feels all too real.

Firebird plods far too often; for a film that’s premise should bring a lot of suspense, it never does. A secret gay love affair in the Soviet Union while stationed at a barracks when this would be frowned upon (putting it lightly) should be a nail biter. We see the amount of spying going on within the barracks, from letters being opened before the soldiers receive them to rooms being tapped. Yet Sergey and Roman bar one tense moment, never feel in danger. By removing the clear danger that the couple would be facing, we are left merely wondering if they will get together. Which for a film such as this about this era, sadly isn’t enough.

With cinematography that echoes filmmaking gone by, the film feels like it is another time thanks to Mait Maekivi’s vivid lens. Throughout, we feel the love and undeniable fact that this is a love story that will never fully succeed; Maekivi utilises colours to show this. In the starkness of the barracks, we are cold and unsure. Yet once in Romans quarters or out of the area, be it in Moscow or Tallinn, a warmth comes over the screen as the possibilities for love grows, only for us to be brought straight back to the coldness when we get too close to happiness.

Despite this frustration, however, Sergey and Roman’s romance compel you enough to want to see a happy ending, even if we know deep down that that most likely is never going to be possible considering their circumstances. Firebirds main strength is in the engaging performances of Prior and Zagorodnii. From the start, we see that spark that the other has, and while Prior’s Sergey can ease his character into this new world of emotions and feelings and sexuality. Zargorodnii’s Roman can control the romance and leads the flirtation as he waits for Sergey to work out what he wants.

While Prior and Zagorodnii are particularly strong, Pozharskaya shines just as much, which is apt considering she is the third person in this love triangle. By giving us enough time with Luisa, we as the audience can feel stronger for her as she unknowingly becomes caught up in the love affair. With Luisa originally wanting to be with Sergey and Sergey obviously showing his love for her (even if it only eventually becomes from the point of friendship). We see her battle to find someone suitable for her and her potential husband who better than the dashing Roman? Pozharskaya is the heart in the final third of the film as we see her love turn to despair. However, a stronger script would have integrated her more into the story. So when important moments occur, they are felt that much stronger.

Firebird looks the part thanks to some tremendous cinematography and set design, with strong leads performances, this should be an easy success. Yet the film never does enough to enamour us with the story, leaving us cold.


To view more of our coverage of BFI Flare, please check out our other reviews below.

My First Summer

The Greenhouse

Jump, Darling



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