Warning: this review contains some graphic content. It may be offensive to some people.

"We're gonna blow up!"

Firecrackers is a movie, written and directed by Jasmin Mozaffari.

Actually, it's two movies written and directed by Jasmin Mozaffari.

The first begins with a kid finding a discarded condom on a rural road and blowing it up like a balloon. The second opens with the impolite rejoinder, "Are you fucking kidding me? I can smell your dirty cunt from here," followed by a fist-fight. These are good films, but they're not feel-good films.

Both contain the same significant image: a pair of inebriated young women pushing each other aimlessly about a parking lot in a shopping cart.

Their names are Lou and Chantal.

Firecrackers (2013)

Mozaffari set off her first Firecrackers in 2013, while still in film school. This fifteen-minute short showcases her style: documentary-looking, but revealing a keen eye for imagery and framing the shot. It brought her wider notice.

She and her crew filmed around North Bay, Ontario. The fictional town depicted looks remote, rural, and small, with the truck stop the centre of excitement. The short relies heavily on Lou's narration, at once youthfully optimistic and world-weary. We're watching two young women face limiting and oppressive and sexist surroundings. They want to escape, but their escape plan is somewhat dubious. What means they have acquired thus far get taken from them.

They're not happy about it, but they'll try again. And they can matter-of-factly describe the probable next few days of the thief, a person known to them.

Firecrackers (2019)

Mozaffari remade this film as her feature debut, and it promptly became a film festival favourite, though not much of a hit elsewhere. HBO picked it up in 2020. It's a brilliant little movie, but uncomfortable to watch.

She filmed in and around three Ontario communities: London, St. Thomas, and Hamilton. We're still in a fictional small town, one larger than in the first draft, more industrial, but it still feels like nowhere. The premise remains the same. The plot has been expanded significantly, and the trouble the girls encounter, more overtly terrifying. The emotions have been turned up. Whereas someone steals their limited funds in the first film, this one goes darker. They've saved a fair bit of money working for the local motel. When one of them gets assaulted, they seek revenge.

Lou's mother wants their money so she can settle out of court with the target of their revenge. He will walk away with no legal consequences for his acts and Lou and Chantal will lose the funds for their escape plans. Everything in their lives tells them they hold little to no value. They may start believing it.

Or they may try, once again, to leave their bleak lives for some unknowable future.

The film develops the style Mozaffari demonstrated in 2013. Several shots highlight the terrible beauty of an industrial landscape at dawn. We see the beauty of these young women and the bleakness of their lives.

Some viewers will be a bit disappointed by the story and pacing. After a very strong opening, Firecrackers meanders a little, and concludes with an open ending that isn't meant to satisfy our desire for closure.

Red-haired Michaela Kurimsky gives (the metaphor is unavoidable) an incendiary performance as Lou, angry and aggressive but frequently smiling. She takes several troubling steps to set her world right, and remains unapologetic. The world around her behaves far worse than she does. The second film develops Lou's difficult relationship with her sporadically-religious mother, and her affection for her younger brother, who may identify as female. That path will be uneasy, to say the least.

Lindsay Smith plays the less aggressive best friend Chantal, and the bond between them feels real, as do the strains on it. This second film gives us an African-Canadian Chantal, clearly one of the few non-White people in her town, though the fact receives only brief mention. Race matters in their world, but not that much. Lou and Chantal could be from any number of backgrounds and communities. The basic story would remain the same.

In both films, they careen towards any number of uncertain tomorrows, the forces against them formidable.

2013 cast:

Vanessa Orford as Lou
Lindsay Smith as Chantal
Gavin Lanteigne as Jesse
Christina Garcia as Leanne
Justin Major as Trevor

2019 cast:

Michaela Kurimsky as Lou
Karena Evans as Chantal
Callum Thompson as Jesse
David Kingston as Johnny
Tamara LeClair as Leanne
Scott Cleland as Josh
Dylan Mask as Kyle
Gabe Meacher as Eric
Robert Cormier as Shane
Tarick Glancy as Travis
Karleena Kelly as Cam Girl
Devon Collins as Taylor
Jorja Cadence as Skylar
David Parisian as Pastor

Firecrackers: damn- makes Fargo look like Frozen by comparison.

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