Firebird (2021)

PEETER REBANE

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB

/, 2021. , , , . Screenplay by Peeter Rebane, , based on the story by . Cinematography by . Produced by Tom Prior, Peeter Rebane, . Music by . Production Design by , , . Costume Design by , . Film Editing by .  Podcast: Bad Gay Movies

The memoirs of a Russian soldier turned actor surviving as a gay man in Soviet Russia is turned into a painfully earnest film about doomed romance. Sergey (co-writer and co-producer Tom Prior) is stationed in Soviet-occupied Estonia in the late seventies when he serves as a driver to fighter pilot Roman (), instantly friends until favourable circumstances allow them to express their physical attraction to each other.

Their relationship must be kept absolutely secret considering that the punishment for their illegal sexual behaviour would be devastating and permanent, which estranges them emotionally when Roman starts to show signs of wanting to distance himself from Sergey in order to protect his career and his freedom. Eventually, Sergey goes to the big city to become an actor and Roman stays in the army to marry their mutual friend Luisa (), but is that the end of their liaison? Is there nothing more tying them together than just sexual charisma, and can that connection continue to be ignored?

A sincere plea for tolerance places this film’s heart in exactly the right place, but it also means that the characters are flat and dull in the name of purity, while the actors are lifeless as a result of their replacing any kind of complicated humanity with a plastic, noble ideal. There’s no indication of what makes the main characters’ relationship so important other than the fact that they’re both beautiful and look great in their swimwear, the dialogue between them, most of which sounds like Instagram platitudes, has no personality and the flat direction kills any possibility of chemistry.

Period details don’t always ring true and cultural details are even less convincing, it’s hard to believe that these men grew up in the time and place that they come from, it’s feels more like two modern-day westerners were dropped into an intolerant world that they have no idea how to navigate.

The decision to have a mixture of British and Russian actors perform the film in English with a series of either bad or awkward accents is a disastrous one, Prior in particular is inconsistent in his speech, which isn’t helped by the fact that he delivers his entire performance with the same, vacant facial expression in just about every scene.

 

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