Two teenage boys ignite a lineup of fireworks – smiling and watching with excitement as the pyrotechnics burst out, inspiring joy in their audience and taking pride in the work they’ve accomplished together. Each shell goes off in order, right to left, like a domino effect or a countdown – the spark they’re lighting is finite, and will come to an end.
Based on a true story, Giuseppe Fiorello’s Fireworks (Stranizza d’amuri) follows two teenage boys who connect in rural Sicily, in the outskirts of Catania, during the 1980s: a time and place not ready to accept them. As the country rallies together, cheering Italy on to its World Cup win, Gianni and Nino are the odd ones out, distinct and separate from their community.
Gianni (Samuele Segreto) works as a mechanic in a shop just across from a bar, whose male patrons regularly taunt and torment him. One day, escaping from one of his abusers, Gianni literally crosses paths with and crashes into Nino (Gabriele Pizzurro), who’s just graduated from school, and taking his new moped out for a spin. Nino and his family share a warm, happy life: three generations under one roof, far out in the countryside, working the family business of fireworks displays.
Gianni grows more integrated into Nino’s charming family unit, and is invited to and included in meals, birthday celebrations, and soccer viewing parties. Through Nino, Gianni finds the affectionate family that he’s lacking back home. When the inevitable happens, and they are found out, Nino is interrogated by his furious male relatives, and Gianni expelled from his newfound family.
As the final match of the World Cup transpires, Italy has won and everyone celebrates in the streets. Nino comes, finds Gianni, and the two ride together. In a profound moment of staging, the town rallies through the streets to the central piazza, united in their celebration, as Nino and Gianni, alone together, ride in the other direction.
Fireworks captures a spirit of pure, unadulterated youth, both in its love story and its expressions of freedom, through momentary escapes from the pair’s institutional and familial structures. Gianni’s days are spent working in the auto shop, or at a stone quarry, and his nights spent at home with his troubled mother. His world is a small one, living and working mostly within one single piazza. Nino, albeit with a warmer family life at home, has just been “freed” from school, as a recent graduate, and has a new tool of independence through his moped.
Like the Vespa in Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God, vehicles are a form of liberation, and it’s through transport that Gianni and Nino both can be with each other, on-the-go, and find their secret slice of paradise: in nature, away from industry and civilization. Even their work operating fireworks mirrors their inner spirit: once confined, restrained in a box, then with a spark can suddenly burst out and become its fullest self.
The pace may be a little slow (running over two hours for a somewhat slight story) but the earnest, steady performances (especially by Samuele Segreto as Gianni) showcase strength in the face of adversity, making Fireworks a genuinely touching story of connection, against all odds.