Repression and Desire

Firebird

Director: Peeter Rebane

Cast: Tom Prior, Nicholas Woodeson, Diana Pozharskaya, Oleg Zagorodnii, Jake Henderson

This Film is available on the DIFF Website to be viewed and has not had a cinematic release yet https://www.durbanfilmfest.com/collection/features/

Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

This film is in English with no subtitles.

Young Estonian director Peeter Rebane’s heart-warming 2021 film Firebird is a must see at this year’s Durban International Film Festival to be viewed online.

Firebird focuses on the forbidden and touching love story between Sergey wonderfully played by the gorgeous British actor Tom Prior (The Theory of Everything) and Roman played by Ukrainian actor Oleg Zagorodnii set during the cold war in a Soviet Airforce Base just before the impending Soviet invasion of Afghanistan placing the timeline of the film set in the early 1980’s.

Beautifully filmed, Firebird refers to the Stravinsky ballet of the same name and centres on a young private soldier Sergey in the Soviet military who falls in love with his hopelessly dashing lieutenant and aircraft pilot Roman. 

In the midst of this extremely macho world of the Soviet military is this lyrical and beautiful love story that unfolds unexpectedly which director Peeter Rebane treats with sensitivity and grace, without demeaning desire while highlighting the extreme repression that both men were living under whereby any form of suspected homosexual activity was punishable by 5 years in a Soviet labour camp.

Roman is forced to completely hide his sexuality, while Sergey’s true sexuality blossoms as he leaves the military as he pursues a career in the dramatic arts, while studying lines for Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.

The fact that both actors are so utterly convincing and easy to watch, makes Firebird excellent viewing, a film very similar to the BAFTA nominated South African 2020 film Moffie directed by Oliver Hermanus. Rebane also draws much inspiration from the Oscar winning Ang Lee film Brokeback Mountain which caused quite a stir upon its first release in 2005.

Repression and desire are intermingled as Roman and Sergey attempt to hide their love for each other not only from the spying military but also from an extremely conservative Soviet society in which men must marry women and reproduce to increase the population of the Soviet Union.

Homosexuality is still banned in Russia but the daring bravado of Estonian director Peeter Rebane’s beautiful and fascinating portrayal of forbidden love both before and during a heteronormative relationship is both informative and exquisite. Roman marries Luisa played by Diana Pozharskaya and even has a child with her, while continuing to keep in touch with the flamboyant thespian Sergey who finds unadulterated acceptance within the Soviet theatre and ballet community.

Rebane’s film is melancholic without being morbid, sensual without being contrived, held together by two decent performances by Prior and Zagorodnii.

Firebird gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is highly recommended for those viewers that enjoyed Brokeback Mountain and Moffie. A fascinating tale of a true story adapted to film.

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