There really is nothing more selfish than love. And it is probably the only thing that enables one to be true to themselves. “Firebird” is the true story of Sergei Fetisov and is based on his memoir “The Story of Roman.” It follows the love story between Sergei and Roman over the years and how it affects the people around them. The film is visually stunning, and you will be awestruck at the beauty of some of the frames. But the real beauty of “Firebird” itself is in how they do not waste a single word in the dialogues. The emotions are powerful, but their expressions are subtle, creating a heady mixture of the said and unsaid that makes you feel the love of the protagonists through the screen. This is how the story unfolds on screen.
Sergei And Roman’s Stories
The name of the movie is derived from a play that Roman and Sergei watch, which itself is based on the story of a magical bird from a faraway land that is destined to bring both “luck and doom to its captor.” And that fits perfectly with their story. Sergei is a private in the Estonian air force. His service is about to end, and he plans on going home to his mother and working on the farm. It looks like there might be a budding romance between him and Luisa, who is the secretary to the base commander. But his life changes with the arrival of Lieutenant Roman Matvejev. The spark of attraction is almost instantaneous, and it is not a secret between the boys. They bond due to a common love for photography and similar tastes in music and literature. When Sergei mentions that he has never seen the ballet, Roman takes him to the concert of “The Firebird.” It is quite a moment for Sergei where he begins to be sure of what he feels for Roman. That day, they shared their first kiss. But of course, we are talking about a different time, one where people did not have the freedom to love who they wanted to, and everyone’s reality was presumed to be heteronormative. For Sergei and Roman’s next outing, Luisa invites herself.
Throughout that time, one would think that Sergei is the third wheel for the couple, but only the two men are aware that it is actually Luisa. They sneak in a moment of intimacy but are almost caught. They make their way to a pond for a midnight swim, and that’s when they get intimate for the first time. But it’s not a great love story without the occasional wrench thrown in. An anonymous report is filed against Roman, saying that he has been engaging in homosexual relations with a private. Though Roman has the commander’s trust, he is still forced to maintain his distance from Sergei. But that changes when, during one of the missions, Roman’s life is under threat. For Sergei, it was the fear of losing the person he had started feeling very strongly for, and for Roman, it was the fear of losing his life that made them take the steps they did. Somebody rightfully said that fear makes one braver, and both of them gain the courage to act on their feelings. But even that had its shelf life. Sergei had told Roman that he and his childhood friend had idolized Zubkov Valentin, the officer who became an actor, and that they both wanted to be like him. Roman encourages him to pursue his dreams, and that prompts Sergei to apply to acting school. He gets in and comes up with a plan for him and Roman to stay together in Moscow. But Roman doesn’t want to hear it. He advises Sergei to forget what happened between them. This breaks Sergei’s heart because when they had had this discussion previously, Roman had told him that though he couldn’t leave his life as an officer behind, he would join Sergei should he become an actor. But that was not to happen.
A year goes by. Sergei is making progress in his life at acting school and seems happy with his life. He is visited by Luisa, who tells him that she is getting married to Roman Matvejev. Sergei is shocked and doesn’t know what to do. Luisa tells him that she wishes that nothing changes between them and invites him to the wedding. There, away from the festivities, Sergei questions Roman whether he truly believes that “if he lives a lie long enough, it will turn into the truth.” But Luisa is pregnant, and Roman is well on his way to leading a new life. Both of them part ways once more. The next stage of this story takes place four years later. Sergei is doing theater, and Roman is a family man who is moving to Moscow to study further. He leaves behind Luisa and his child and reassures them that when he comes back, they can lead a new and better life. Once in Moscow, Roman wastes no time and meets Sergei, asking him to start living with him. Sergei is angry and conflicted. On the one hand, this is what he has wanted for years; on the other hand, he doesn’t want to betray Luisa. But his love for Roman wins, and he joins him soon enough. They travel together, and he tells him about how his childhood friend Timon, and he ended up separating. It was because Timon’s father had discovered that his son was gay and had beaten him black and blue. Sergei had been a witness to that. When Timon had raised his eyes and looked at him, he had run away. Three days later, they found his body. Timon had committed suicide. All his life, Sergei had hated his instinct to run away at that moment. That is probably why he became the type of person who gave his all to love—Roman and was willing to put everything at stake for him repeatedly. When Roman and Sergei move in, they host a party where they are caught by Volodja, one of their old friends. He reveals that he was the one who sent the report all those years back, but he did not know who the private was. Sergei asks him not to tell anyone. Volodja replies that he won’t because that is Sergei’s job.
The couple resume their lives, but happiness did not last for long in their paradise. Roman receives a letter that his family is visiting him for Christmas, so Sergei has to pretend to be his roommate. He is against it as he doesn’t want to pretend any more but eventually gives in. But seeing the family together, he realizes that he and his love will never get what they deserve, not to mention what he would be taking away from Roman and Luisa. He says as much in the letter he leaves for Roman before exiting his life forever. Luisa comes to know the reality soon enough, and she is beyond heartbroken.
‘Firebird’ Ending Explained: What Happens To Roman And Sergei?
A month passes, and Sergei moves back to his old life. He finds a letter that Roman has left for him. Upon reading it, he calls him up, only to discover that he has passed away during a mission in Afghanistan. The world comes to a standstill, and the only thing Sergei knows to do is visit Luisa. She is extremely angry at him and asks him point blank what his importance ever was in Roman’s life. But this time, Sergei will not have his feelings invalidated. He replies right back that he was important enough for Roman to move to Moscow for him. He questions her about what the difference was between his and Luisa’s love for Roman. She cries angrily that she was his wife before hugging her friend in her grief. She also gives him some of the photographs that Roman had taken of him during their time in the army. In the letter that Roman had left for Sergei, he had said that he was tired of having to choose between his heart and soul. He had also said that he would never meet Sergei again because he couldn’t belong to everyone, but he would never stop thinking of him either. Sergei and Roman’s love was not accepted by the world, but it mattered to both of them, and Sergei lived the rest of his life with the peace brought by the knowledge of this simple fact.
Final Thoughts: What Works For ‘Firebird’?
“Firebird” is a beautiful movie—not just visually, but also as per the story. The real beauty of the movie lies in the fact that it doesn’t ask you to root for the protagonists. It just asks you to understand them. Neither was able to live the life they wanted or with the person they wanted, simply because of the shackles put on them by society. Even Luisa, for that matter. We believe that she had feelings for Sergei, not Roman. She probably went on that date with him to make Sergei jealous. But that obviously didn’t work, and eventually, the man she loved took off to acting school. Considering the limited choices available to women during those times, she was forced to make a compromise with reality and marry Roman. Luisa probably came to love him, but even she wasn’t exempt from the disappointments of a life half-lived when the person you have chosen to spend your life with would rather be with someone else. The stringent rules of society, under the mask of wanting the best for everyone, do a great disservice to the very people they want to protect. And that reality must change soon. Article 121 was abolished in 1993, but the fight is far from over. “Firebird” is a must-watch, and we cannot recommend this enough.
“Firebird” is a Drama Romance film directed by Peeter Rebane.