Giuseppe Fiorello’s sun-drenched film Fireworks (Stranizza d’amuri) captures the essence of young queer summer love in the 80s. Impromptu dips in natural creeks; basking in the nighttime heat; the colours of fireworks lighting up the sky. The glorious visuals make the aggressive local culture and homophobia just a bit more bearable until Fiorello is ready to hit home.
Gianni (Samuele Segreto) and Nino (Gabriele Pizzurro) are working-class boys, growing up surrounded by overt, toxic machismo. The dark haired, brooding Gianni works as a mechanic with his mother’s boyfriend, and is openly mocked for his quiet, effeminate ways. Nino, with angelic curls and broad smile, comes from a chaotic but loving family in the countryside. When they meet, Gianni is seduced by the warm welcome he receives from Nino’s family and the easy friendship they establish. But as they get closer, and rumours spread that they are lovers, Gianni becomes more defiant with the bullies, and Nino’s parents start to fear for the future.
Fireworks takes its time to establish its characters and setting. This is 80s Italy as you imagine it. Golden sun, mopeds and rampant sexism. We settle into village life, where Gianni is constantly under a degree of threat. From the hecklers in the café across the road from his work, to the times he is forced to take the bus, or walk home at night. This is juxtaposed with Nino’s poor but seemingly carefree existence. Segreto and Pizzurro are a handsome pair, adept at conveying the innocence of youth combined with the budding strengths of adulthood.
The slower pace pays off, offering us a deeper connection to the characters, while making their attraction feel organic and their other relationships feel complex and real. It also makes the film’s final moments more impactful. Partially based on a true story that birthed the modern LGBTQ+ movement in Italy, it is perhaps best not to know the details going in, but rather let yourself be swept up in the story.
A seasoned screenwriter and actor, Fireworks is Fiorello’s directorial debut and it is a strong one. While its pace may frustrate some, it is in the seemingly insignificant details that we understand the characters lives. Ramiro Civita’s cinematography opens up the countryside and revels in its landscapes. This really is one to see on the big screen if you can.
A lot of attention has been paid to the 1980s in queer cinema recently, especially stories told from a European perspective. Each has warmly celebrated the nostalgia and queer stories before the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, but Fireworks reminds us that things weren’t idyllic back then, and that our struggles are never over.
By Chad Armstrong
Fireworks (Stranizza d’amuri) receives its Australia Premiere at the 33rd Melbourne Queer Film Festival on Tuesday, November 14th, 2023. MQFF33 runs November 9th-19th. For the full lineup and to purchase tickets head to mqff.com.au.