Until relatively recently, being openly gay in the military was a criminal offence, and that was in the more progressive nations. Even then, there’s often a reluctance to ‘come out’ for fear of bullying, harassment and discrimination. In less tolerant and usually only vaguely democratic countries, it’s still illegal. However, in ‘ancient’ Sparta or Medieval Japan, same-sex relationships in the military were commonplace, even encouraged. Sadly, society’s lapse into bigotry, conservatism and religious intolerance has marred countless lives. As is the case in Firebird.
Set during the Cold War, Sergey (Tom Prior) is enduring his military service on a Russian base. So is his childhood friend Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya) and their friends suspect the pair will eventually get together. He’s counting down the days and minutes until he can leave. However, when an ace pilot (Oleg Zagorodnii) arrives, his interest is piqued. The men strike up a friendship and eventually start a relationship, but given homosexuality is illegal in the Soviet Air Force they can never be together.
Firebird in a well-crafted period drama which tells a tale of love through the prism of three people who are inexorably drawn together. Peeter Rebane’s film is well acted but the decision to shoot in English does it no favours at all and the story feels just too familiar (even though it’s based on a memoir). Shattering any illusions of authenticity. It’s a shame really because there’s good chemistry between the leads and nice period detail, but whilst Firebird is an entraining dram it should have been much better.
Firebird screens at BFI Flare.