Forbidden love: "Firebird" stirs with Soviet military romance

The exciting military drama "Firebird" brings the sad but true story of Sergey Fetisov to the big screen.

Forbidden love: "Firebird" stirs with Soviet military romance

The exciting military drama "Firebird" brings the sad but true story of Sergey Fetisov to the big screen. A forbidden relationship in the Soviet Union in the 1970s draws attention to the situation in which queer people find themselves in Russia today.

A film that takes place in the 1970s, but is more up-to-date today than ever: the Estonian-British co-production "Firebird" is above all a sad story about forbidden love. The young Russian provincial Sergey Serebrennikov, played by British actor Tom Prior, is doing his military service at an army base in Estonia. He can't wait to return home - but then charming fighter pilot Roman Matvajev, played by Ukrainian actor Oleg Zagorodnii, shows up. The two men are attracted to each other and soon they're snogging to Tchaikovsky records and sneaking off to Tallinn to attend a performance of Igor Stravinsky's Firebird.

Adding to all of this is Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya), the warm-hearted and capable secretary to the base commander (Nicholas Woodeson). Luisa has her eye on her friend and colleague Sergey until Roman shows up. She can't help but feel attracted to the charismatic, stunningly handsome newcomer. She is unintentionally drawn into a romance and ends up paying a high price for Roman and Sergey's forbidden love affair.

Back then, homosexuality was banned in the Soviet military - although the situation isn't much better today. An anonymous source tipps off the local KGB officer, forcing Sergey and Roman to hide their love. For fear of severe consequences - as the film says, several years in a labor camp - Roman ends the love affair for the time being. The pain and suffering both characters feel at that moment can be felt even through the screen.

It's not so much due to the chemistry and compelling appeal of the actors - it's limited. Zagorodnii and Prior's collaboration only begins to feel passionate and believable towards the end of the film. Rather, the fact that the situation for many queer people in Russia has not improved in the more than 50 years that this story has unfolded weighs on the chest throughout the film.

The striking proof of this: the premiere of this film in Moscow had to be canceled because it was accompanied by so many protests. A newspaper headlined: "A Briton, an Estonian and a Ukrainian shame the Moscow International Film Festival."

The story is based on real events: the life of Sergey Fetisov, a Russian actor and writer. He wanted to tell his story to raise awareness about the situation of queer people in Russia. Together with director Peeter Rebane and Prior, who also wrote the screenplay, Fetisov tells his odyssey in "Firebird". Unfortunately, he passed away before the film was completed.

But his story lives on in the film. Above all, the art of the Estonian cinematographer Mait Maekivi does Sergej's story justice. One follows with suspense every attempt by Sergej and Roman to give their love another chance. It drags on over the years, the two men are getting older, but their mutual feelings remain.

"Firebird" will be in German cinemas from May 17th.


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