Firebird (2021)

“Above all don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to the point where he cannot distinguish the truth within and around himself and so loses all respect for himself and others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”

I’ll start out by saying this review/discussion of Firebird might be a little biased. Why? Often when I review a film I do some research on the movie. Who created, wrote, directed? Why was the film made? In this case, I found a lot of material directly from the creators of Firebird, and I can’t help but give them a ton of credit for what they did.

I knew going into the movie that it was based on a true story. So, knowing it was Cold War era Soviet Union, I was aware this wasn’t going to be sunshine and rainbows. The synopsis is readily available, but Firebird is a story of forbidden love, and the courage it takes to be authentic to yourself and others, and to choose love when fear is more abundant.

I learned that Firebird was independently produced with no studio backing. Knowing that, I’m even more impressed with the production value. Cinematography, soundtrack, sets – all well done. In so many independent films we find distracting gaps though no fault sometimes of the producers, but when money is tight something gives.

The writers, Peeter and Tom, actually went to Russia and met the real Sergey to talk about the book that he wrote under a pen name. They got to hear from the person that these events happened to, and I’m sure that informed the way the movie was told. Hearing the two of them speak, it sounds like it intensified their resolve to make the movie happen and to be sure this story is a part of history.

I’m struck by this love story. There have been many films about same-sex lovers who dared to be in love, but I don’t think I’ve seen one from the other side of the Berlin Wall (well, what used to be anyway). I knew that life was harsh for LGBT people in the USSR and later Russia, but there was a real fear that was pervasive – someone was always watching. I expected the Major to pop out from behind a rock somewhere with a firing squad.

It’s also ironic, sad, and timely when this film is being shown. Russia has taken backwards steps in outlawing “gay propaganda,” and we are seeing backlash here in the States with attacks on transgender rights and attempts to make LGBT people and history disappear with “Don’t Say Gay” laws.

I often take note of how I feel after watching a film because I think it illustrates the intent of the film, the themes and lessons it discusses, and how effective the film was. In this case, I feel grateful. I’m grateful that I’ve lived through times when being gay was more dangerous, and I’ve been able to see things improve. I’ve also been witness to the backwards progression, but still able to be who I am today because I was empowered by those who came before me.

I think Firebird shows how love can persevere through time, hardship, fear, and even illegality to stand over the years. Sergey and Roman could have tapped out after the first scare they had, but they persisted. What they had was worth coming back to time and again, even when it didn’t make sense. Although I wouldn’t say they were able to truly be authentic, they tried their best when the deck was stacked against them.

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