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Film Reviews Review: Jasmin Mozaffari’s Firecrackers is an incendiary, four-star debut

Karena Evans, left, stars in Jasmin Mozaffari's Firecrackers.

Courtesy of LevelFilm

  • Firecrackers
  • Written and directed by: Jasmin Mozaffari
  • Starring: Michaela Kurimsky and Karena Evans
  • Classification: N/A
  • 93 minutes

rating

If the past few weekends seemed like especially busy ones for local film releases, you can thank the Canadian Screen Awards. Due to the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television’s eligibility rules, any movie hoping to snag a 2019 CSA must open theatrically by March 31. Hence the crush of homegrown titles competing for a level of attention that’s barely there the other 50 weeks of the year: Don McKellar’s Through Black Spruce, Keith Behrman’s Giant Little Ones, Kim Nguyen’s The Hummingbird Project.

Each of the aforementioned titles has sizable distribution and recognizable-ish talent to help carry the marketing load. But the tiniest Canadian film being released during this deluge – the one made for about how much it probably cost to feed Jesse Eisenberg during The Hummingbird Project – is also the best. And thus the likeliest to get lost. So it is up to all of us to go out this weekend and buy a ticket for Firecrackers.

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Jasmin Mozaffari’s feature debut starts off with a burst of violence, and although there’s little actual blood in the microbudget drama, the film is fuelled by a fury and all-consuming rage that is engagingly assaultive. Firecrackers is not a passive work of slow-burn pondering, or whatever clichés of meek Canadian cinema have been constructed over the past few decades. It is confident, loud, urgent. It will leave you cut and bruised, and all for the better.

The film's opening ferocity arrives courtesy of Lou (Michaela Kurimsky, left), a desperate young woman looking to scrape her way out of her small, unnamed Ontario town.

Courtesy of LevelFilm

The film’s opening ferocity arrives courtesy of Lou (Michaela Kurimsky), a desperate young woman looking to scrape her way out of her small, unnamed Ontario town. Lou is an eager fighter but also a tender friend, just as ready to embrace partner-in-crime Chantal (Karena Evans) as she is to punch anyone who dares to look at her the wrong way. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lou’s tough act helps shield her from a chaotic home life, which includes a couldn’t-care-less mother and creepy would-be stepfather, the latter of whom gives off enough warning signs that keeping a distance isn’t even a question. Lou’s rural dot of a hometown is populated by indifferent, if not dangerous, authority figures. Men want everything but offer nothing. Or worse.

Lou’s story is a simple one, focused only on her efforts to escape the life she’s been handed. She sort of works as a maid at a local motel. She sort of has a sexual relationship with a go-nowhere jerk. She sort of recognizes how Chantal is drifting further from her orbit. And the consistently captivating tension of it all is watching Lou struggle to internalize all of this, to plot her escape while just trying to exist, to survive, in the toxic patriarchy that’s suffocating her.

Critically, Mozaffari offers no easy answers or convenient narrative twists. Firecrackers could have followed the blueprint of so many small coming-of-age features and offered Lou a pat road to salvation, a reassurance to its hero, and audience, that everything sorts itself out. Mozaffari instead creates a devastating portrait of a young woman stuck at a crossroads, where neither direction is particularly hopeful. It is Lou’s life, honest and raw and wrenching. It is superb drama.

Mozaffari, who here expands her 2013 short film of the same name, wears her stylistic influences proudly. Andrea Arnold, Lynne Ramsay and fellow Canadian Ashley McKenzie are obvious inspirations, yet Mozaffari only honours them, never imitates. Her cinematographer, Catherine Lutes, captures the impoverished corners of Lou’s life with a deliberately claustrophobic sense of inescapable intimacy. The action is shot with a jerky, forceful energy mirroring Lou’s constant butting up against reality. Every frame bursts with colour, yet there’s a sense that the images are seconds away from being drained of life altogether.

Firecrackers is an expansion of Mozaffari's 2013 short film of the same name.

Courtesy of LevelFilm

This push-pull tension can be fully felt, too, in Kurimsky and Evans’s performances. Despite both leads having more experience behind the camera than in front of it – Kurimsky is a production designer, while Evans is a prolific music-video director, best known for her work with Drake – they own their characters completely, as if Lou and Chantal have been tethered to the actors’ lives since birth. The pair even save a climactic scene involving a shotgun, one of the film’s sole aesthetic and narrative overreaches. As long as Kurimsky and Evans are onscreen, everything feels natural. Everything feels right.

That Mozaffari was able to deliver such a confident and fully realized vision her first time out is one thing. The fact that she was able to do so on pocket change – $127,000 from Telefilm’s microbudget program, another $123,000 from outside investors – is worthy of its own kind of honour. (And that might just sort of happen, as the film is up for the John Dunning First Feature Film Award at this Sunday’s CSAs.)

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Firecrackers is not as casually joyful as its title suggests – but it is absolutely as incendiary.

Firecrackers opens March 29 in Toronto and Vancouver, April 5 in Calgary, Edmonton, Regina and Saskatoon, and April 19 in Victoria.

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