Director: Peeter Rebane
Writers: Peeter Rebane, Tom Prior, Sergey Fetisov
Stars: Tom Prior, Oleg Zagorodnii, Diana Pozharskaya
True romance can flourish even in the most oppressive environments. Based on a true story and taking its title from the Igor Stravinsky ballet that brings its protagonists closer together, Firebird 2022 follows Soviet Air Force junior officer Sergey (Tom Prior) as he toils on an Estonian airbase in 1977.
Sergey works at the base with his childhood best friend, Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya), who is hoping for a conventional future with him, which is at odds with Sergey’s creative aspirations.
A love play by lead actor Tom Prior and director Peeter Rebane, Firebird is based on the late Sergey Fetisov’s memoir “The Story of Roman.” The duo co-wrote the script and co-produced the film with Prior also credited as music supervisor. It begins on an Air Force base in Soviet-occupied Estonia in 1977. Sergey (Prior) is a private serving the last weeks of his mandatory military service. Secretary Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya) is planning their future together, but Sergey is not so sure about his plans.
The arrival of handsome fighter pilot Lieutenant Roman Medveyev (Oleg Zagordnii) changes everything. A spark of friendship is fueled by her shared interest in photography and a mutual love of the arts. Sergey shyly confesses that he once dreamed of becoming an actor. The admission that he has never seen a “royal ballet” leads Roman to invite him to a performance of Stravinsky’s “Firebird.” Lingering glances, a clandestine late-night swim, and stolen moments together turn into a passionate love story. Luisa has also grown fond of Román, placing herself as the third point of a love triangle.
The romance between Sergey and Roman unfolds in the shadows as they try to avoid the suspicion of their friends and the prying eyes of ruthless Soviet superiors. An anonymous report exposing Roman’s indiscretions leads to the reminder that sexual relations between two men can be punished by five years of hard labor under the Soviet penal code.
The intentions behind Firebird are sincere even if the execution favors the melodramatic. The use of color underscores the emotional anguish from the bright red of the small, intimate spaces in which the two men develop photographs together to the steely blue of reckless nights apart from a military world where they must always be on guard. The weather also plays a key dramatic role; heartbreak is faced under a lashing rain, pain and separation marked by the pitiful fall of snow in Moscow.
Firebird is well designed with an engaging use of Estonian locations and strong performances from a multinational cast (English, Ukrainian, Russian, Estonian, etc.), all performing in English. Oleg Zagordnii and Tom Prior make an attractive and believable couple with their chiseled features and toned muscles, while Prior, best known for The Theory of Everything and Kingsman: The Secret Service, maintains an admirable Russian accent.
Diana Pozharskaya’s Luisa feels like the neglected element of this love triangle. A life of sacrifice as a wife, mother and loyal friend leaves her as collateral damage in the biggest stakes of love between Sergey and Roman. A scene towards the end finally allows him to vent her feelings for the way she has been treated.
Firebird 2022 movie review is a historical tale that underscores its contemporary relevance. End titles inform us of recent Soviet laws against “homosexual propaganda” and a final image of an eternally vigilant Soviet official confirms that little has changed for gay men who risk everything in the name of love.
Watch Firebird 2022 Official Trailer: