“Fireworks” (“Stranizza d’amuri”)
Screened at the 41st Annual Reeling Chicago International LGBTQ+ Film Festival (3/5); Letterboxd (3/5), Imdb.com (6/10), TMDB.com (3/5)
Intolerance against members of the gay community has long been a theme in LGBTQ+ cinema, one that has become so common that it’s indeed familiar, if not overdone. However, when it’s set in a historical context, it can be valuable for illustrating how far this segment of society has come (and in a relatively short time, too), as well as a legacy instructional tool for younger members of the community. Such is apparently the intent behind writer-director Giuseppe Fiorello’s debut feature, a sincere effort at telling the fact-based story of a pair of teenage gay men (Gabriele Pizzuro, Samuele Segreto) in 1982 Sicily who face growing prejudice and harassment from locals and family members as their relationship begins to surface publicly. It’s a bittersweet heart-tugging tale of friendship, love, courage and undue bigotry that genuinely strikes a chord of sympathy with viewers. However, with a runtime of 2:13:00, it’s also needlessly long, especially at the outset, moving by at a snail’s pace that begins to grow tiresome by the film’s middle. The film also suffers from some uneven, inconsistent character development, making one wonder where some of its unexpected shifts in tone come from. Both of these issues are not entirely unexpected in the work of a first-time filmmaker, a creator who’s still learning about knowing when to “kill one’s darlings,” an error a little more than apparent here. Admittedly, the film finishes strongly in the final act, especially in its chilling conclusion. Nevertheless, the picture could have easily been cut by about 20 minutes without losing anything, and the director would have been wise to pursue that course (perhaps he will next time). It’s unfortunate that “Fireworks” ends up getting bogged down by its own narrative in light of the strength of its story and the importance of its message. We can never be reminded too much of where we’ve been so that we can avoid going back there again – and reliving the indignities that our predecessors had to endure.