‘Fireworks’ ​​showcases gay rights movement in Italy

Samuele Segreto as Gianni in ‘Fireworks.’
Samuele Segreto as Gianni in ‘Fireworks.’

“Fireworks,” now available on VOD and DVD, is a heartfelt romantic drama from Italy about two teenagers in 1982 Sicily who fall in love but face homophobia from their families and others. Gianni (Samuele Segreto) lives with his mother Lina (Simona Malato); his father is “away.” Gianni is bullied by a handful of guys in his village, ostensibly for being gay. His life improves when he meets Nino (Gabriele Pizzurro) by accident — their mopeds crash as Gianni is being chased by his tormentors. 

As the teens develop a fast friendship, they eventually both go to work for Nino’s father’s fireworks company. But when they give into their unspoken passions, both Lina and Nino’s mother, Carmela (Fabrizia Sacchi), among others, put an end to the budding romance. 

“Fireworks” has many affectionate moments and the attraction between Gianni and Nino is palpable, but the film also contains several scenes of violence that can be difficult to watch. Director/co writer Giuseppe Fiorello dedicated his film to two teenagers whose lives inspired both “Fireworks” and the gay rights movement in Italy.

In a recent interview, Samuele Segreto, who delivers an impressive performance as Gianni, said he knew “something about this story from his parents, and because it was in Sicily, but I didn’t know much.” He, along with Giuseppe, the director, and co-star Gabriele Pizzurro researched the events which helped inform the story and the characters.

Sicily in 1982 was very homophobic, and while Segreto personally never had experiences like Gianni does being bullied, he does acknowledge that violence is always present. He admits Italy is a macho society, but he is optimistic that things will change. 

“I hope that my generation can be better. I have heard a lot of stories from my friends — I’m a dancer and I have a lot of gay friends — who felt like Gianni or Nino in their own life,” Segreto said. “And there are a lot of Giannis and Ninos, not just in Sicily, but all over the world.”

“Fireworks” is most sensitive in its presentation of the relationship between Gianni and Nino, and Segreto appreciates the romance. 

“It’s a poetic movie that talks about love,” he said. “And it is about the best part of love — the beginning, that moment when you are starting to understand that you feel something for another person.”

As Gianni gets to know Nino, he also meets his family, spends time at their house, and eats meals with them. Since Gianni does not eat well in his home, he is shocked by all the food and family warmth at Nino’s house. 

“I had to eat a lot!” the actor revealed with a laugh. “I ate 12 plates of pasta in eight hours. That was really hard!”
But Segreto’s relationship with his co-star, Pizzurro, was easy. The guys have real charisma on screen, and they got along effortlessly off screen. The actor effused, “During the film, we became like brothers and that was key for our work. After two years, [Gabriele] and I still call each other and talk about our lives. It’s beautiful, even though I’m in New York and he is in Rome.” 

The actor/dancer is in America studying at Alvin Ailey Studios. He confesses that he never studied acting, but explained, “With dancing, I did learn to act, because when you dance, you have to communicate and talk with your body and your expressions. That was how I learned how to act. It is always a ‘school’ when you observe people in the subway, or in the street, or while you are working.”

Working with his instincts and emotions served Segreto’s performance well, especially in a touching moment between Gianni and his mother, Lina. The performer recalls, “One of my favorite scenes is Gianni’s dance with the mother. I have a beautiful relationship with both of my parents, and while I was doing this scene, my mom was in the other room, and she was crying watching it. Her presence helped me express my emotions. I was searching inside me for the strong feeling I had for my real mother for Gianni’s [connection] with Lina.”
As for the difficult relationship Gianni has with his mother in “Fireworks,” Segreto justifies her behavior thusly, “Lina was trying to protect Gianni. She did it in her way, and it wasn’t the right way in the end. The mindset in Sicily is that it is more important what others think about you than your own happiness, what you want to do, and who you want to be.” 

He added, “I like that movies can show these points of view. That’s why movies are magical. You can have a message and share it with others who see it sitting in a chair.”