REVIEW: Firebird, BFI Flare Festival

This moving and romantic film about forbidden love set at the height of the Cold War will have a mass appeal to a wide range of audiences.

Heartbreaking, romantic and dramatic are three words that automatically spring to mind as this film comes its conclusion in a emotional way.

Written by director Peeter Rebane and Tom Prior (who also stars in the film as Sergey), Firebird is based on the memoirs of Sergey Fetisov and tells the story of a complex love story between Sergey, pilot Roman and Sergey’s childhood friend Luisa. Beginning at the height of the Cold War, there is plenty of drama as the relationship between Roman and Sergy is threatened to be exposed after an anonymous report is filed.

Handled with great sensitivity in terms of the way in which it has been filmed as well as the beautifully emotional screenplay, Firebird is certainly a real highlight of this year’s BFI Flare Festival. It gets the balance between the drama and the romance at the centre of it perfectly balanced to keep the audience thoroughly absorbed in the characters and the story that is unfolding.

In particular, the way in which the camera shots really focus in on the intimacy and the need to keep Sergy and Roman’s growing friendship and romance under wraps makes the audience feel very much part of their story. This is really captured as the pair bond over their love of photography and the arts and it is clear instantly that there is a strong bond and attraction very early on from when they first meet.

But it is also the use of lighting that also helps to enhance the sense of danger that their relationship causes to Roman’s profession and of course Sergey’s own ability to be himself leading to plenty of heartbreak. Each scene uses natural colour that somehow brings out even more of the emotion – as seen in moments in which Sergey visits Luisa for the final time, the bleakness of the colours really reflect just how drained emotionally both Luisa and Sergy are.

The performances are all also perfectly pitched in ensuring that this story unfolds emotionally at a steady pace. In particular Oleg Zagorodnii as Roman captures the struggle that he faces in having to choose between his career or being honest about who he is – leading him to make a decision that makes an impact on those around him. It is a natural and honest performance that ensures the audience can sympathise with him. Elsewhere, Tom Prior as Sergey delivers a performance that is filled with a variety of emotion that is compelling to watch – together the pair have a wonderful chemistry that makes their relationship believable. Diana Pozharskaya as Luisa is simply wonderful to watch as the character most caught up in the relationship and who is the one who ends up being most hurt – it would have been great to see her being used more and to see more of the impact of the discovery of the relationship between her friend and the man she loves had.

A gorgeously romantic film, but it is also a powerful reminder how much that happens in this film is still forbidden – as a final title at the end of the film informs the audience of the recent Soviet laws against “ homosexual propaganda”. It is certainly worth a watch for those who love LGBTQ films or those who love a romantic period drama.

By Emma Clarendon

Firebird is available to watch as part of the BFI Flare Festival until the 28th March. Find out more here.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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