THE STORY – At the height of the Cold War, a troubled soldier forms a forbidden love triangle with a fighter pilot and his female comrade amid the dangerous surroundings of a Soviet air force base.
THE CAST – Tom Prior, Oleg Zagorodnii & Diana Pozharskaya
THE TEAM – Peeter Rebane (Director/Writer) & Tom Prior (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 107 Minutes
By Josh Parham
The history of the world has always steered toward the notion that those on the outskirts of society rarely get to participate in the historical conversation. Attitudes and perspectives have shifted mightily in recent times. Still, it is only after a continuous fight for those marginalized groups to have their importance elevated to the same level as others. However, current events can also add a new layer to this commentary that further deepens the discussion. It is intriguing that “Firebird” has the objective to highlight an underseen story that exists inside a country that has also triggered a conflict that is being vilified on a global platform. This gives an extra curiosity to the unfolding plight, even if the results are well-intentioned yet ultimately unfulfilling.
Beginning in Soviet-occupied Estonia in the 1970s, a young private named Sergey (Tom Prior) is anxiously counting down the days until his military service ends so he can return to some assemblage of ordinary life. One day, fighter pilot Roman Matvejev (Oleg Zagorodnii) arrives, and a bond between him and Sergey is instantly formed. What starts as mere appreciation for one another’s friendship soon blossoms into a passionate romance, one that must be kept secret at all costs. Roman has already been suspected of such activity, and the stern Major Zverez (Margus Prangel) is determined to keep a watchful eye on him. Eventually, the pressure is too much, and Roman relents. He marries Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya), a fellow officer on the base who was having a mild fling with Sergey previously. Spurred by rejection, Sergey heads to Moscow after his service is terminated to pursue an acting career, but the two can’t help but fall back into each other’s lives, no matter how much they may sacrifice in the end.
The success of any romance is truly dependent on how compelling one finds the central characters. It is a high priority to be able to connect to the individuals these events revolve around and become captivated by their journey. For their parts, both Prior and Zagorondii have decent chemistry that plays well on screen, even if it never truly ignites a blazing spark. In all honesty, the tension that builds between them as their relationship is strained is far more engaging to witness, giving glimpses into more effective emotional reveals in their performances. Prior shines a bit brighter than his co-star in this regard, but both are mostly fine in their roles without being particularly exceptional. Pozharskaya also has some well-earned moments in her small turn, and Prangel has a commanding presence as the insidious force of oppression and danger. The ensemble provided is good, if not entirely extraordinary.
Peeter Rebane’s direction aims to craft a sense of intimacy with this story that can be quite endearing, and he utilizes strong framing and colorful cinematography to enhance the passions at play. His efforts try hard to compensate for an aesthetic that can’t escape a degraded, cheap sheen at odds with the period setting. The screenplay doesn’t fare too much better, for which Rebane and Prior have a shared credit. One can glean an earnestness from telling this true tale of a romantic entanglement that forced its participants apart, but leaning on historical context does not negate the formulaic execution. The dialogue is pretty wooden, not aided by some of the shaky accents, and the clichés only provide a pedestrian thematic commentary. As the pacing moves sluggishly along, there is little depth to the narrative that makes it a unique or nuanced portrayal. The results are mediocre at best, with the filmmaking showcasing a competency without much more sense of innovation within the storytelling.
It is fortunate that “Firebird” is not a film that contains any malice nor is incredibly subpar in its presentation. The call to shine a light on an under-represented side of history is a noble objective, but the delivery is sadly quite flawed. While the cast is serviceable, none of the actors provide exemplary work. Still, they are often hamstrung by the material, as the script is a poorly constructed foundation that trades in pedestrian tropes with little distinction to make it unique. Despite being ably crafted, the attempt to bring attention to such important subject matter is met with a hollow note. Recent events may have provided a new framework by which to experience such a story, but that sadly does not negate a tone that struggles to become engaging. It is a shame that the final product can only muster to be middling at best.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The film has some fine craft on display, and the direction emphasizes an intimacy that works well for the tone. A few of the supporting players have a great screen presence.
THE BAD – The storytelling trades in pedestrian tropes that limit the narrative’s emotional impact. The two leads are serviceable at best, with inconsistent degrees of chemistry. The aesthetics sometimes come across as low-quality.