Review: 'Fireworks' Recounts the Youthful Passion of Murdered Gay Italian Lovers

Kilian Melloy READ TIME: 3 MIN.

The real-life story of the so-called Giarre murder serves as the basis for this Italian gay romance, which is sun-soaked at the heart (recounting the rapturous love of two 16-year-old boys in 1980s rural Sicily) but darkly chilling around the edges.

Like another tragic story of Italian teenagers in love, "Fireworks" presents us with the family dynamics of its two protagonists, using those blood ties to foreshadow and explain the story's bloody destination. Gianni (Samuele Segreto) is the subject of vicious gossip in his small town and, as a result, the object of bullying by a cadre of guys who seemingly have nothing better to do with their days than hang around a café and amuse themselves by making sport of him. Gianni's mother, Lina (Simona Malato) is torn between her devotion to her son and her dependence on her boyfriend, Franco (Enrico Roccaforte), employs Gianni at his garage only reluctantly, unhappy about the stories swirling around the teen. Giannis home life is full of threats and recriminations – not the most enticing place to be.

By contrast, Nino (Gabriele Pizzurro) is surrounded by a loving clan. His rambunctious extended family includes his father, Alfredo (Antonio De Matteo), a kindly sort who runs a fireworks company and who is teaching Nino the tricks of the trade. Nino's mother, Carmela (Fabrizia Sacchi), presides over the family with a gentle smile and good home cooking, while various other family members flit across the screen, including a playboy who entertains an endless procession of overnight guests in his little trailer, a single mother who drifts around the edges of the action, and nephew named Toto (Simone Raffaele Corgiano), who exhibits intense jealousy and hate any time someone else comes between him and his beloved Uncle Nino.

While delivering a moped for Franco – and fleeing the unwanted advances of local alpha male Turi, whose sexuality seem omnivorous but whose sway over the local barflies in unchallenged – Gianni collides with Nino, who is out for a ride on his own new moped. Lying on the ground, the wind knocked out of him Gianni is the recipient of a panicked Nino's attempt at CPR, which, to Gianni, seems more like a kiss. From there the two boys develop an intense relationship with all the hallmarks of an Italian queer fling: Summer days at a swimming hole, nights spent sending rockets into the sky to burst in carefully planned light shows, and afternoons of buzzing around together on Nino's moped.

Nino's family take an instant liking to Gianni, gong so far as to arrange a job for him with Alfredo's brother, a quarry boss named, suitably, enough, Pietro (Roberto Salemi). For a while, things seem to be looking up: Gianni has the prospect of moving out of his mother's place and into an apartment of his own; Nino has someone to help him run the family business, which is struggling since his father is suffering a lung ailment, and the boys get to spend a good deal of time together (including slipping away to private places for intimate episodes into which director Giuseppe Fiorello discreetly avoids taking his camera).

But all it takes is an unguarded moment in a public place – and some selfish sabotage by a family member – for the boys' bliss to unravel into astonishingly malevolent anti-gay violence. Fiorello, who also wrote the script with Andrea Cedrola, shows exactly how "family values" crumble when even the most talented and beloved gay people are reviled by their homophobic clans. "We let the devil in!" one of Nino's relatives screams when whispers about the boys reach a climactic apex. Her hysteria is matched by male family members who subject the boy to a brutal, bellowing interrogation.

The 1982 double murder was never satisfactorily solved, and investigators hit a stone wall of silence from villagers who refused to talk about it. But the two young men sparked a social revolution of sorts, as protests sprang up after their killing and the Italian equality organization Arcigay was founded in response. "Fireworks" is a fitting tribute not just to real-life victims Giorgio Giamonna and Antonio Galatola, but to young men around the world who are targeted for harassment, hate, and murder simply for being gay.

"Fireworks" streams on VOD starting January 18.

by Kilian Melloy , EDGE Staff Reporter

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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