BFI London Flare Film Festival Review – Firebird (2021)

Screening as part of the “Hearts” category at the BFI Flare Film Festival 2021, Firebird is a beautiful ode to the true story of a cold war love triangle. During his basic training in Estonia, Sergey (Tom Prior) falls for the charming Soviet Airforce pilot Roman (Oleg Zagorodnii). The catch isn’t just that their relationship is illegal, but Sergey’s best friend, Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya), falls for Roman too. Trying to keep their relasionship under wraps, Sergey and Roman’s love flourishes for each other despite the world working against them.

Directed by Peeter Rebane, Firebird is a sentimental story of moonstruck lovers against the brutal, frosty backdrop of the cold war. This setting gives the familiar narrative of forbidden love new dimension; orchestral, poignant and deeply touching. The opening poem sets the tone for the film: “Black thorns and roses, smiles and tears/They’re sown together and grow so near.” Stirring and introspective, this poem hints to Sergey’s love for the arts. Rebane’s recurring motif of polarisation is summed up in these two lines—a contrast between the military and the theatre; war and peace; masculinity and femininity. Yet despite these oppositions—the thorn and the rose—they dwell and “grow” in the same place. The military can do all it wants, but true love will still bloom—even in such toxic surroundings.

Sergey and Roman depart and rejoin throughout the movie like an ocean wave, forever drawn back to each other. The beach is used as a symbol of safety and freedom, away from the fear of a KGB investigation. The ocean is often used in queer cinema as an emblem of free love—in Moonlight (dir. Barry Jenkins, 2016) and Moffie (dir. Oliver Hermanus and Jack Sidey, 2019) for example. The beauty and calm of the sea resonates with Sergey’s passions; a place where lovers are truly able to express themselves, removed from society. However, the couple’s concealment from the real world proves ultimately damaging, rippling out consequences to touch other innocent lives.

A not entirely new story, but still effective, Firebird is a stunning celebration of real, forgotten love. Tragic and elegantly told, Firebird will be available to view on the BFI Player until the 28th of March.