By Thom Ernst
Firecrackers arrives at a time when, superficially, the most powerful female narrative on film is that of a captain who flies fighter jets and commands spaceships.
At least for now, the likes of Captain Marvel literally kick butt at the box-office. But earthbound films like Firecrackers are gentle reminders of how independent cinema still packs a punch.
Jasmin Mozaffari’s story, based on her own short film, centers around two friends, Lou (Michaela Kurimsky) and Chantal (Karena Evans) who intend to leave the run-down place they call home and strike out for someplace new.
There is a bit of irony at play here; Lou and Chantal, despite debilitating poverty and menacing patriarchy, have the moxie to be remarkably self-assured; they are vulnerable characters who aren’t overtly concerned about their vulnerability. Part of this comes from the audacity of youth, but part comes from some undetectable character trait that pushes them to survive. Their leaving is non-negotiable, but then on the eve of their departure, an act of betrayal sets off a series of events that harnesses them even deeper in the town they are trying to escape.
In some ways, this is a familiar story. The complexities of youth on the cusp between dependence and independence has a built-in recognition factor for most filmgoers. The challenge is to strike a new narrative to elevate the genre, to make it as distinctive as the characters strive to be within the story.
Mazaffari achieves this by showing little interest in mythmaking or turning experience into a feel-good fable where tenacity triumphs over hardship. Neither is she in the business of telling an “I-told-you-so” tale where action equals consequences. There are no morality lessons here.
It’s to Mazaffari’s credit that that she strips the narrative of these familiar, if not tired, trappings to deliver an experience that sparks, then ignites, then explodes.
The impulse is to compare Jasmin Mozaffari Firecrackers with Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant. But to coin Firecrackers as “This Year’s Sleeping Giant” is to slap on to Mozaffari’s movie a label suitable only for a production meeting pitch. It’s a pitch certain to leave everyone in the boardroom believing they have a solid vision of what exactly the film intends, but their belief would be inaccurate.
Both films deliver an authentic in-the-room experience on the lives of small-town Canadian youth within a specific age group identifying within a specific economic group and both films are astounding works from first-time directors but to compare these films is to suggest that they are the male and female versions of the same story.
They are not.
Firecrackers stands uniquely on its own devices. It’s rare for a feature debut to be as fully realized and executed as Firecrackers. It’s as if someone forgot to tell director/writer Mozaffari that making your first feature film is a tough go, filled with doubts, indecision and second guessing; her choices never seem obvious yet always feel right.
Firecrackers. Written and directed by Jasmin Mozaffari. Starring Michaela Kurimsky, Karena Evans and Callum Thompson. Opens March 29 in Toronto and Vancouver with cities to follow.