EVEN AS RUSSIA is invading Ukraine and committing war crimes there, Firebird has landed, a film about the smoldering story of two soldiers in the Soviet Air Force at the height of the Cold War in the late 1970s. Against all reason, the two men plunge into a perilous love affair, committing a crime that was punishable by five years of hard labor.
Based on the true-to-life memoir by Sergey Fetisov, his character Sergey Serebrennikov (played by Tom Prior) is a young private who’s weeks away from completing his obligatory military service in the Soviet Air Force in Estonia. He dreams of becoming an actor in Moscow. He works with Luisa (Diana Pozharskaya), an ambitious secretary to the base commander. She is secretly in love with Sergey, but when dashing lieutenant ace fighter pilot Roman Matvejev (Oleg Zagorodnii) arrives on the base, both Sergey and Luisa are attracted to him.
Sergey and Roman connect over their shared interest in photography, a not-so-veiled platform for gazing at men. Roman takes Sergey to a rehearsal of Stravinsky’s The Firebird, which gives the movie its title and becomes a metaphor for the struggle between duty and desire. They share a passionate kiss. Later, they engage in sexy underwater shenanigans during a clandestine midnight skinny-dip in the Baltic Sea, their moans at climax drowned out by two fighter jets with their howling sonic boom overhead in what must be one of gay filmdom’s most erotic scenes.
Brian Bromberger is a freelance writer who works as a staff reporter and arts critic for The Bay Area Reporter.