'Fireworks' — true-life story packs an emotional wallop

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday January 16, 2024
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Samuele Segreto and Gabriele Pizzurro in 'Fireworks' (photo: Cinephobia Releasing)
Samuele Segreto and Gabriele Pizzurro in 'Fireworks' (photo: Cinephobia Releasing)

Giuseppe Fiorello makes his debut as a director with "Fireworks," ("Stranizza d'amuri") a bittersweet tale of young gay love in a small, homophobic town. The film is set in Sicily in the early 1980s and is dedicated to two young men who were shot and killed for daring to love one another.

Samuele Segreto and Gabriele Pizzurro, two young, fresh-faced actors, star as Gianni and Nino, both in their late teens, who meet when Gianni's bicycle crashes into Nino's motorcycle. Gianni is injured and passes out, and Nino revives him by performing CPR. This turns out to be the beginning of what at first appears to be a deep, platonic friendship.

Gianni could certainly use a friend. He lives with his mother and his abusive stepfather and he is regularly bullied by his neighbors for being gay. Gianni is accepted by Nino's family, who at first think very highly of him.

When Nino's father, with whom Nino works, needs to take time off from his fireworks business (hence the film's English title) due to worsening asthma, it's Gianni who fills in for him. As the boys spend more time together, it gradually becomes clear that something more than friendship is developing. But when the truth of their relationship is revealed, all hell breaks loose. Gianni is banished from Nino's house and Nino's father tries to "help" his son. The next day Gianni is gay-bashed.

But the boys cannot be kept apart. In front of the whole town, they take a courageous stand and ride off together on Nino's motorcycle. They go to a lake and swim, then lie next to the water embracing each other. But someone in the town, it's not revealed who, decides that they cannot be allowed to be together.

Alessio Simonetti and Giuseppe Lo Piccolo in 'Fireworks' (photo: Cinephobia Releasing)  

Delighting in torment
The film was shot on location in a dusty, sun-drenched Sicilian town. Fiorello beautifully captures the town's lower class, bigoted ways. Italy is playing in the World Cup as the story unfolds, and the entire town is watching the games on television. Aside from bullying Gianni, this appears to be their only interest.

The scenes in which Gianni is bullied and gay-bashed are disturbing, and to a gay viewer, infuriating. The townspeople delight in tormenting him, but Gianni maintains his dignity throughout. Segreto shines as Gianni. He and Pizzurro are beautifully tender and spontaneous as their love begins to blossom amidst all that hate. Pizzurro is especially impressive in his film debut.

The rest of the cast, some of which were reportedly locals, give good performances. Simona Malato, as Gianni's deeply unhappy mother, is especially good. She's trapped in a marriage with an abusive man she does not love but is forced to stay with him out of financial necessity and is desperately trying to understand her son, whom she loves but cannot fully accept.

The film was shot in the Sicilian language. This is not the picturesque Sicily of "The Godfather," but the real Sicily, a dry, hot dustbowl where small minds enforce a suffocating conformity and where those who are different pay a steep price.

The film is a little bit on the long side, with a running time of more than two hours. Fifteen minutes could easily be edited out without hurting the power of the narrative.

Be ready to shed a few tears when you watch this film. But "Fireworks" is much more than just a tearjerker. With its powerful social commentary, and its call for tolerance, it's far more meaningful than any soap opera could hope to be.

'Fireworks' (Cinephobia Releasing) streams on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu and more, and is also available on DVD. www.cinephobiareleasing.com

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