The film Putin doesn’t want the world to see: Firebird, a gay love story about fighter pilots

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04/21/2022

Oleg Zagorodnii is sitting in the cafe he owns in Kyiv, beneath a brightly coloured painting of Aladdin smiling down from the wall behind. “It is just me now, no baristas,” says the Ukrainian actor via video call. “People come. I make them coffee, give them dessert. They are happy to feel some kind of normal life. They sit in the cafe, we play music, we speak. Of course, all we talk about is war.” Zagorodnii has twice attempted to enlist in the army, only to be told that there are currently more volunteers than equipment. The best he can do is make appeals on social media for bulletproof vests, and use the cafe as a place to pass on food, supplies and military uniforms. “I try to do what I can in this terrible time,” he says. It was only a year ago that the 34-year-old rented a small cinema in the city to screen the cold war love story Firebird for his family and friends. In this stirring British-Estonian production, Zagorodnii, who has the looks of a 1940s matinee idol, stars as Roman, a soon-to-be-married fighter pilot who falls for a young conscript, Sergey, played by Britain’s Tom Prior, after they meet at a military base in Soviet-occupied 1970s Estonia. Based on the autobiography of the late Sergey Fetisov, Firebird might resemble any tale of forbidden desire – except that Sergey and Roman face more than simply scandal should their relationship be discovered. The Soviet-era setting lends the film a distinctive thriller element: think of it as The Love Lives of Others.

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