- Colin Fraser
THREE AND A HALF STARS Private Sergy has fallen for his commanding officer. But it's the mid-70's and the Estonian Airforce doesn't view such relationships well. DRAMA ESTONIA English Language #FIREBIRD
Starring Tom Prior, Oleg Zagorodnii
In the mid-70’s, homosexuality in the Estonian military was still a punishable offence - in part because it was the mid-70’s but also because Estionia was still an occupied territory of the Soviet Union. Conservative values ran deep.
Private Sergey Serebrennikov (Tom Prior) ran into the prickly end of the law when he fell deeply for his commanding officer Roman (Oleg Zagorodnii). It’s love at first sight and the pair manage to keep their affair from prying eyes, at least at first. But rumours soon spread and before any dreams Sergey has of eloping to Sweden are realised, Roman marries his best friend Luisa. Complicated yes, but it’s not enough to break their passion. By now Sergey has left the airforce and against better judgement, their relationship stumbles on in secret. Yet everyone knows it must end, and most likely, it will end badly.
Based on an autobiographical account by Sergey Fetisov, FIREBIRD has a lot going for it; foremost is the deep talent pool of writer / composer / producer / actor Tom Prior. Collaborating with director Peeter Rebane, the pair bring Fetisov’s story to vivid life and manage to dodge most of the clichés that stalk this kind of story (even if they have stuffed proceedings with more longing looks than an entire season of Downton Abbey). It’s light on mawkish sentimentality and gratuitous flesh, big on period aesthetic and credible passion. Nor does it make any apologies for the underlying truth of Sergy and Roman’s relationship - people suffered. Bonus credibility points right there.
As breakthrough features go, Rebane and Prior have beaten expectation with this beautifully crafted romantic drama that is both compelling and thrilling in equal measure. The haunting camera of Mait Mäekivi has much to do with that. It also lands as an historical document in its absorbing depiction of time and place. For Western audiences, there’s an alien quality that makes the experience even richer. While it dips its toe in melodrama a little too often, FIREBIRD exceeds as a bittersweet drama about the choices we make - both good and bad - in the face of oppression.