‘Firebird’ evaluation: A stirring Soviet-set army romance

Director Peeter Rebane and his co-writer (and star), Tom Prior (as well as they produced), have created a compelling, tender, tragic, usually melodramatic take a look at forbidden love and wish in “Firebird,” based mostly totally on the memoir of Russian actor Sergey Fetisov, who died in 2017 at age 64.

Set in Soviet-occupied Estonia by means of the late Nineteen Seventies and early ‘80s, this absorbing romantic drama is an all-too-timely reminder of the battle that LGBTQ+ people nonetheless face everywhere in the world, from autocratic Russia to democratic America. (On account of its queer content material materials, the film was met with protests and obstruction when it carried out the 2021 Moscow Worldwide Film Pageant.)

A sort of Chilly Battle-era “Brokeback Mountain” (with a contact of “Prime Gun”), the movie tracks the affair that sparks between Sergey Serebrennikov (Prior), a youthful airman, arts aficionado and photos buff, and Roman Matvejev (Oleg Zagorodnii), a dashing, barely older fighter pilot new to the military base.

Obstacles abound, in truth, for the passionate pair, not the least of which is the existence of Article 121, a Soviet jail statute that deems male homosexuality illegal. (The regulation, with its most five-year jail sentence, was repealed in 1993). Add in a sneaky, eagle-eyed KGB officer (Margus Prangel) out to point out all “suspicious” habits on the underside and, later, an anonymous tip about Roman’s alleged canoodling with an unidentified private, and the screws tighten. The stress lastly overwhelms career-soldier Roman, and he’s pressured to complete his relationship with a heartbroken Sergey, who’s coming to the tip of his military service.

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By way of all this, there’s moreover Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya), the great and comfy and succesful secretary to the underside’s equitable commander (Nicholas Woodeson). Luisa has eyes for her buddy and co-worker Sergey, until Roman reveals up, and she is going to have the ability to’t help nevertheless be drawn to the charismatic, startlingly engaging newcomer. Nonetheless is he as enchanted by her? Can you say love triangle?

The film jumps to a yr later when Sergey resides in Moscow and attending drama school. The dichotomy between the rigid, paranoia-filled life on the air drive base (yikes, that drill sergeant!) and the freedom and whimsey of Sergey’s joyful new inventive setting couldn’t be additional palpable. Nonetheless, Sergey pines for Roman, who has remained on the underside and, as a matter of survival — militarily, societally — taken up with Luisa. Which isn’t to say that Roman has forgotten about Sergey. The least bit.

To reveal way more in regards to the plot, which advances an additional 4 years, would spoil its usually predictable nevertheless sometimes fascinating twists and turns. It’s a deeply felt story made additional so by the inherently dicey, if not unimaginable, nature of Sergey and Roman’s love.

Speaking of which, their romance will get adequate of an on-screen train to essentially really feel attractive and real, though the characters seem to take a few too many lust-over-logic risks (even for a barely soapy film like this). For all his military circumspection, Roman can seem notably reckless in his want for Sergey, which, narratively, usually comes off additional as a method to ratchet up the stress or add jeopardy to an already charged situation. (You would possibly find yourself shouting on the show, horror movie-style: “Lock the door!” “Switch away from the window!” “Don’t take that {photograph}!”)

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Although that’s an intimate story at coronary coronary heart, Rebane and his crew have achieved a secure job crafting the film’s additional sweeping backdrop, efficiently re-creating time and place whereas capturing in japanese Estonia, Moscow and Malta. It’s moreover lovingly lighted and shot by Mait Mäekivi, who evocatively captures the movie’s frequent, thematic use of water. (Amongst completely different points, Sergey is haunted by a childhood buddy’s apparent drowning lack of life.)

A soulful, endearingly eager Prior and the Jon Hamm-some Zagoradnii make an alluring pair of lovers, with Pozharskaya moreover proving an attention-grabbing presence. Accent work is usually proficient, with the British Prior (“The Idea of Every little thing,” “Kingsman: The Secret Service”) largely selling his Russian-inflected speech and the rest of the cast (along with a mix of Ukrainian, Russian and Estonian actors) ably managing the all-English dialogue. (Rebane has acknowledged that he wanted the film, no matter its setting, to be in English to reach the widest worldwide viewers.)

As for the title, it refers back to the magical ballet by Igor Stravinsky, bits of which are glimpsed twice proper right here, initially as a preamble to Sergey and Roman’s first kiss. Romantic actually.

‘Firebird’

Rated: R, for language and some sexual content material materials

Working time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Collaborating in: Begins April 29, AMC Century Metropolis 15; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle Metropolis Coronary heart 5, Encino