‘Firebird’ Is Deeply Moving Love Story Buoyed By Strong Chemistry

Tom Prior and Oleg Zagorondnii in Firebird
Tom Prior and Oleg Zagorondnii in Firebird (photo: Herrki-Erich Merila – courtesy Roadside Attractions)

Firebird is a deeply moving love story about a handsome, soulful young soldier who begins a clandestine affair with a charismatic fighter pilot on a Soviet Air Force Base at the height of 1970’s Communist rule.

Peeter Rebane directs and shares screenwriting credit with lead actor Tom Prior. The film is based on a true story adapted from the memoir, The Story of Roman, by Russian actor Sergey Fetisov.

Diana Pozharskaya and Oleg Zagorodnii also star in the romantic thriller.

Diana Pozharskaya, Tom Prior, and Oleg Zagorodnii in Firebird

From the film’s official website:

Firebird is a passionate love story set against the backdrop of a Soviet Air Force base during late 1970’s Communist rule.

Sergey (Tom Prior), a soulful, young soldier who dreams of becoming an actor in Moscow, is counting the days until his military service ends. His life turned upside down when he locks eyes with Roman (Oleg Zagorodnii), a sexy, enigmatic ace fighter pilot newly assigned to his base.

Driven by their undeniable attraction, Sergey and Roman navigate the precarious line between love and friendship at a time when Soviet men in uniform caught having a sexual affair was met with the severest punishment.

As their friendship grows into love, the men risk their freedom and their lives to be together in the face of an all-seeing Soviet regime.

With a forbidden love story set amid a hyper-masculine setting of the Soviet era military, it’s easy to imagine some inspiration taken from earlier films like Brokeback Mountain.

The title of the film comes from an episode where Roman takes Sergey to a rehearsal of the Stravinsky ballet which tells the tale of a magical bird captured and freed by a prince, later returning to rescue the prince from an evil immortal. And there we find the metaphor for the story ahead.

Sergey, who’s drawn to the theater, is entranced by the beauty and scale of the performance – something he’s never experienced outside his rural upbringing. From that spark, Roman  convinces Sergey to follow his dream of working in the theater.

Tom Prior and Oleg Zagorondnii in Firebird (photo: Herrki-Erich Merila)

The exceptional cast brings heart and effortlessly layered emotional heft to their performances. Due to the sensitive nature of Roman and Sergey’s relationship, much is said through subtle eye contact, yearning glances, and non-verbal expression. The sexually-charged chemistry between Prior and Zagorodnii is undeniable as the passion becomes palpable.

While much of the film is set amid the cold, repressive environment of the military base, Rebane allows the intimate relationship between Roman and Sergey to blossom in natural settings like the forest and a private swim in the ocean.

Tom Prior and Oleg Zagorondnii in Firebird (photo: Herrki-Erich Merila)

The heartbreaking performances are framed by a sweeping score, gorgeous cinematography, and the ever-present danger of being discovered. At the time of the true story, homosexuality was punishable by up to five years in prison.

Related: New Film Chronicles Secret Military Love Story During Cold War

Firebird had its world premiere in March 2021 at the BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival.

The film also screened at Frameline: San Francisco LGBTQ+ Film Festival where it scored an honorable mention for Best First Feature.

Note: According to reports, Oleg Zagorodnii, one of the romantic leads, didn’t speak a word of English when he was cast in his role and was tutored in the language during the film production. He’s Ukrainian and missed the film’s recent London premiere, because he was in Kiev, helping defend his country against its Russian invaders.

Firebird opens in theaters today. Check the official website for more info.

Rating: 5 stars

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