Director: Roman Balayan
Writer: Rustam Ibragimbekov
Stars: Oksana Akinshina, Andrey Kuzichev,Oleg Yankovskiy
An opening panoramic shot with titles might not normally constitute the most rewarding use of page space in a review, but in the case of Roman Balaian's latest film it is worthwhile. The word "glasnost" making a u-turn to re-enter the Russian title in Latin transliteration may seem weird, but it is not a random oddity—rather, it conveys the ideological agenda of the film with such straightforwardness that it may even appear self-defeating. In Balaian's totalitarian dystopia set in Kiev in 1981, liberation can only come from the West—there is simply no inner possibility for change in Soviet society, as there is, in fact, no society at all. Instead, there are two kinds of characters in Kiev's near-empty streets and suburbs—the eponymous birds of paradise, dissident writers striving for freedom, and demonic KGB agents eager to destroy them. Incidentally, dissidents can fly (literally), taking both small scale flights, such as the one to fetch a US flag decorating an exhibition of American photography (the film's heroine then uses the flag to make herself a dress, and thus becomes an embodiment of freedom), and long-distance ones, to Paris, France. Despite their supernatural abilities, the freedom-loving dissidents are almost totally destroyed, so at the end of the film the KGB is left triumphant for "four painfully long years to go."
Despite such over-the-top symbolism, the film presents itself as dead serious—after all, it represented Ukrainian cinema at the 2008 Kinoshok and Moscow Film Festivals, and the contemporary Ukrainian authorities' take on the Soviet past and Ukraine's Atlantic choice has little place for irony. In the opening scene set in a park an elderly man with crutches (we later learn that his legs were broken by the KGB) accuses the country of waging war against its own people and persecuting every individual who raises even a little above the crowd (the simultaneous low-angle shot of the monument of prince Vladimir with a cross provides a spectacular symbolic image of such an individual). The elderly man is immediately apprehended and beaten by a policeman, but Sergei (Andrei Kuzichev), the film's protagonist, an aspiring young dissident writer, attacks the policeman and overpowers him, thereby entering the diegesis in a most chivalrous manner.
Reviewed by Andrey Shcherbenok in KinoKultura