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TIFF Review: Firecrackers

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For two girls living in a rural Canadian town, their dream is just escape.  Escape from the oppressive forces that are threatening their freedom – closed-minded parents, toxic masculinity and the monotony of every day.  They don’t really know what their dream entails, just that it’s “away” and that is just enough.  Freedom is enough.  It is in fact everything.  

Firecrackers opens with a foul-mouthed fist fight between teenaged girls – punches fly just as fast as the f-words and it’s a fitting introduction to Lou (Michaela Kurimsky) who is tough-as-nails, crude, and ready for battle, no matter what battle that is.  Her friend, Chantal (Karena Evans) is never far from her side and together with another high school pal, they make plans to ditch this life behind and make way to New York City.  However, when Chantal’s ex finds out their plans and assaults her, the two friends end up in a downward spiral and their escape is torn from them making all the more evident the patriarchal values and sad realities of their small town life and placing tension between the once inseparable girls.  The more they push back, the worse things become.

Jazmin Mozaffari manages to explore the destructive nature of the girls’ existence due to all the outer bias they’ve faced.  For Chantal, it’s subtly touched upon that racism is an experience that has shaped her (in one scene she notes to Lou that she could never understand what she’s been through).  For Lou, it’s the fact that her own mother can’t recognize the toxic masculinity she herself spouts (she constantly is horrified that Lou’s younger brother Jesse is interested in make-up and Madonna).  They’ve led different lives, different pressures, but the need for better things bonds them.  Through stellar performances from Kurimsky and Evans, who to date is most well known for directing numerous music videos for Drake, you feel the heartbreak when their only means for escape is stripped away.  

Working with a mostly female film crew, including cinematographer Catherine Lutes (who has also shot Mouthpiece and short film EXIT at this festival), we are brought into a world not often shown on screen.  Through, sometimes dizzying, handheld camera work and intimate close-ups the audience is part of the action, and while it’s not always easy to watch, it also shouldn’t be.  

“There are lots of bad people in this world sweetheart. You’d better get used to it,” Lou’s mother tells her, reminding her that complacency is often easiest – not pushing back against the internalized misogyny, the patriarchy is often easiest.  As the constant sound of busy traffic outside their run-down home reminds Lou of the way out she cannot take, the girls’ journey to realize what that escape might ultimately cost them becomes just as harrowing.  Firecrackers is a staunch reminder of why we should never shy away from these stories.  

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