Review: Soviet-era gay love story ‘Firebird’ doesn’t quite soar

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Tom Prior as Sergey and Oleg Zagorodnii as Roman in Peeter Rebane’s FIREBIRD

Photo: Herkki-Erich Merila Roadside Attractions, LLC / The Factory

“Firebird” turns out to be unwittingly timely.

Set among Russian troops in Soviet-occupied Estonia in the late 1970s, it stars Ukrainian actor Oleg Zagorodnii alongside British actor Tom Prior as two soldiers who secretly fall in love. each other at a time when discovery could have sent them to jail or worse. With the invasion of Ukraine and the atrocities of the Russian military making headlines, this glimpse into the personal struggle of two men against the iron-fisted authoritarianism of the Soviet state seems prescient.

But, even though this beautifully shot and generally well-acted British-Estonian co-production (opening April 29) is based on memoirs (The Story of Roman by Sergey Fetisov), it looks overly polished to PBS, as if the edges had been erased from the real story to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. That everyone speaks English, albeit with a sometimes stuffy Russian accent, doesn’t help in this regard.

This is especially true when compared to a film like last year’s brutally realistic and powerful ‘Moffie’, which told a somewhat similar story of being gay in the military in South Africa during the war era. apartheid.

Yet despite the punches fired, “Firebird” is ultimately effective and moving.

More information

‘Bird of Fire’

To classify: For foul language, sexual content

Operating time: 107 mins

When: Opening on April 29

Or: AMC Houston 8, Houston; AMC Willowbrook 24, Houston; AMC First Colony 24, Sugar Land.

3 out of 5 stars

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The first is Sergey Serebrennikov, a young Air Force soldier who looks forward to an imminent release so he can help his mother on the family farm. One of his best friends at base is Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya), a fellow soldier with whom he shares his dream of escaping to Moscow to become a theater actor. And she dreams that maybe friendship will lead to something more.

In his cloistered world, Roman Matvejev (Zagorodnii), a rock star fighter pilot with the good looks worthy of a movie idol, needs a driver while he’s stationed at the base. They discover they have a lot in common: Tchaikovsky, night swimming – and a secret that could train them both, even if the widely admired Roman would have a harder time falling.

Estonian director Peeter Rebane, who comes from the world of music videos, loves being Captain Obvious, like when Sergey and Roman’s first sex date ends with two booming jets streaking through the sky. It’s like he doesn’t trust the public to figure out what happened.

Yet despite all of this, Rebane – who wrote the screenplay with Prior – has moments that feel good. When a particularly suspicious member of senior management, who thinks Roman is just a little too good to be true, starts snooping around for dirt, “Firebird” gets a much-needed jolt of suspense. And the ending carries a certain melancholic beauty.

Although this is not enough to allow “Firebird” to take flight, it is enough to prevent it from crashing and burning.

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  • cary darling

    Cary Darling joined the Houston Chronicle in 2017 where he writes about arts, entertainment and pop culture, with a focus on film and media. A native of Los Angeles and a graduate of Loyola Marymount University, he was a reporter or editor at the Orange County Register, the Miami Herald and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Additionally, he has freelanced for a number of publications, including the Los Angeles Times and the Dallas Morning News.

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