Director: Jasmin Mozaffari
Screenwriter: Jasmin Mozaffari
Starring: Michaela Kurimsky, Karena Evans, Callum Thompson, David Kingston, Tamara LeClair, Scott Cleland, Dylan Mask
Jasmin Mozaffari’s strongly authored feature-length debut Firecrackers is filled with boundless energy and packs a hefty emotional punch, the result being one of the most personal coming-of-age dramas of the year, a true triumph of independent filmmaking in 2019.
Confronting issues facing women even when they are way too young to have to deal with them, Mozaffari’s work gently bleeds out its youthful optimism as the leads confront their coming womanhood head on with issue after issue arising from the men in their lives, this portrait of what it means to come of age as a woman balancing the lovable and identifiable nature of the loudmouthed protagonist with the bitterness she holds towards a world that is clearly unkind to her in order to create a journey entirely relatable in its specificity to the character.
This coming-of-age film on the destruction of youthful rebellion masters the art of presenting life as it is, its documentary-inspired naturalistic dialogue and intimate character exploration leading its credentials. As the protagonist’s mother (Tamara LeClair) says to her in the film, “there are lots of bad people in this world, sweetheart. Get used to it.”, and used to it the protagonist (Michaela Kurimsky) must become, the picture recognising the ongoing battle between male privilege and the lives of women by illustrating the differences in each gender’s typical coming of age stories, the woman at the heart of the piece perhaps drawing the short straw in terms of luck, but in no sort of unrealistic way in comparison to most of the women you’d ever meet. This thought, which is ingrained into the fabric of the film, makes no secret of the wars our society has gotten used to, and grabs us by the collar as if to wake us up to the fact. It’s not going to please those who are against this fight, but that’s not the mission here and nor should it be. This is a film by women and for women, with the female lens firmly established to offer a perspective that we don’t get to see often enough in this industry (or any other). But, this isn’t just a gritty exploration of contemporary issues as it also has a firm hold on the artistry of the form, its motifs and moments of true visual expression being a fantastical detour from the grittiness of the narrative and how raw each of its performances are.
In early shots, the glitter of the sunshine floats into the lens, for example, indicating the possibility of a magical “walking into the sunset” finale, only for it to be replaced with an almost endless array of night time sequences and indoor sets that puncture the hope the sunshine brings and accompany some of the film’s saddest moments.
By the same token, the score from Casey MQ is phenomenally orchestrated and in-keeping with the underlying flair of the piece, its Blade Runner-like drones and elongated chords not only usefully granting a sense of dread (and a touch of magic) to the production, but also firing the entire film into another place at carefully chosen intervals; there are small sequences spoken through metaphor where it’s almost as if the camera is following the mood of the score and not the other way around. However, there are perhaps no more central elements that contribute to the success of Firecrackers quite like the work of its director and its leading actress.
The work that duo Jasmin Mozaffari and Michaela Kurimsky bring to the table and then mould around one another is really quite staggering given their relative lack of experience, Kurimsky offering one of the most pure and raw performances in years, hiding a recognisable wide-eyed look at the world beneath an outwardly angry, anti-social, anxious teenager, with Mozaffari trusting her to pull off everything she does with close-ups that leave the acting nowhere to hide. In fact, Mozaffari’s overall contribution to the success of the performances across the board is evident not only in how she structured the film around heavily improvised dialogue or shot a number of key scenes so close up to the performers, but also in how she guided the actors through their characters’ transformations, Kurimsky and a number of supporting players each having the peak of their arc be a moment to truly shine, and shine they did.
Firecrackers is, then, a riveting coming-of-age drama that, through the careful guidance of screenwriter-director Jasmin Mozaffari, brings together fantastic work in all aspects of its production to offer something truly unique and powerful, as well as transcendent of its “gritty” tag. With a lead performance to rival any put to screen this year and a story that we are in dire need of in the current political climate, there’s a very good chance this will become the feature length debut of 2019.