Very often, coming of age movies portray a loss of innocence. And it makes sense. As we grow older, we experience things, and ultimately become a bit wiser and a bit less innocent. But, at the same time, not every teen goes through that same loss at that same age, and not every teen feels like “loss” is even the right word for the experience.
Enter Firecrackers, a rawer, unapologetic look at being a teen — one that digs into dark and mature topics like the toxic aspects of masculinity. I had a chance to speak with director Jasmin Mozaffari, and in our discussions, we dive deep into some of what she hoped to accomplish and portray with this film.
Below is the official synopsis for Firecrackers:
“Lou and her best friend Chantal plan to get out of their isolated, run-down town and move to a city far, far away. When Chantal’s unstable and possessive ex violates her during a night of partying, the girls decide to exact their revenge on him through a night of vandalism and debauchery. The consequences of their actions are devastating, threatening the girls’ chances of ever leaving. The more Lou fights tooth-and-nail to save her friendship and hold onto her dreams, the more she spins out of control as she begins to realize that freedom will come at a high cost.”
LRM Online: Okay. So first of all, Jasmine, I have to say, of all the characters that really won me over was Jesse.
Mozaffari: Oh yeah, yeah, I hear that a lot. Yeah, he’s great.
LRM Online: So for starters, as a writer, how did you come up with this concept of the story?
Mozaffari: Well, the story was originally based on a short film I did in 2013, also called Firecrackers. It was my thesis film at film school. And so I did a short version of this before. I had no intention of making it a feature film back then. I filmed in 2012, so it was a very long time ago, and the characters were still the same. There was Lou, Chantal, there was Jesse, and there was the mom. But it was quite a different film than what the feature is, in a lot of ways. And then, years later, when I went to make my first feature, I wanted to revisit the story, but not just look at girls escaping a small town and the idea of their friendship, but really look at the idea of patriarchy, and specifically patriarchal oppression, and the idea of how that limits everybody’s freedom, no matter sort of what gender they are, and no matter how old they are, because all the characters are negatively affected by it.
But looking specifically at how these two characters, Lou and Chantal try to navigate back, and also how do they try to find freedom within that structure, which exists in this small community and exists within this story, this simple story. So that was really the driving force for me, to expand those themes and go darker with those themes in the feature more so than I ever did in the short.
LRM Online: You do cover some dark themes. I am curious though, why the title Firecrackers?
Mozaffari: I mean, that was the title of the short film and it just came from the idea of people referring to those girls as Firecrackers, as people who are… And I just kept it from the short. I decided not to change it. And it’s not a very deep meaning, it’s just in the sense that firecrackers are bold, and bright, and destructive. And so are the girls. So it just kinda came from the idea of using it as an adjective to describe the girls.
LRM Online: Got it. To me, that was new. That’s actually a new word I’m learning from watching this film. That’s why I had to ask you.
Mozaffari: Oh, I see. I see.
LRM Online: Yeah. So like you said, there are some dark themes that the covers in this film. An interesting part that I recall from the film was when one of the boys mentioned that boys are just territorial, it’s in their blood, as a justification of their actions. I mean, can you tell me what made you include this?
Mozaffari: Oh, that scene is… It’s like a scene pulled from my real life in a way. I have a creative collaborator and also the producer of the film, Caitlin Grabham, we talk so much about our own experiences with men throughout our lives up until that point. And that scene is so much pulled from a number of experiences I’ve had with men in intimate settings, where there’s this idea that, especially for that character, he’s justifying the behavior of his cousin, Kyle. And basically trying to say that it’s… Basically feeding into that double standard of saying men are this way and this is the way they are. And I hate… What I’ve always sort of loathe about patriarchal ways of thinking is perpetuating the myths that boys will be boys and that men will be men and that there’s certain behaviors that are ingrained into them that you just can’t change.
And even if those behaviors are dangerous, and abusive, and toxic, and violent. And he’s basically kind of perpetuating that myth further to Lou in that moment, where she’s questioning it, she’s feels maybe troubled by that. And she’s calling him out and saying, I think your cousin might be… There’s something wrong with him. And he’s basically trying to normalize the behavior of men, which again was such a big exploration for me in the film. It’s like the behaviors that are normalized, these toxic masculine behaviors that are normalized over and over and over again, that cause so much damage, not only to women but to the men themselves. So that’s where that line came from. And every line in that scene, to me, is very loaded, and tied to a lot of deeper themes and deeper meaning.
LRM Online: See, I found that line interesting. And then yet later, just after minutes, after that scene, there’s the scene where Lou is in the vehicle with a boy and then she says… They’re making out, and then she says, I’m not trying to date you, I’m trying to f**k you. So I thought it was interesting how you covered that line about boys, but then yet when it comes to being a girl and saying that that seemed to be a turn-off line for the boy.
Mozaffari: Yeah, because I mean, for him, he’s turned off, because he doesn’t like when a woman… He wants Lou to fit into this fantasy of being a docile, passive woman, who just is basically there to accept what he’s giving her, and he doesn’t want her to challenge him. And it’s also kind of again, to say women have the ability to only want sex. And that’s okay. Because men are able to have that and own that proudly. And nobody questions that. And he was trying to also… She was trying to… She’s not fitting into his fantasy in that moment. She’s breaking all of his fantasy. His fantasy of a woman is so, to me, so limiting for what a woman should ever be.
It’s like, you can’t speak out against me. You shouldn’t challenge me. I don’t want us to use protection, because even though I don’t… You know what I mean? She’s like, do you have condoms? He’s like, I don’t, I’ll just pull out. It’s all these sort of power dynamics that he tries to hold so tightly onto, but that are damaging for her. And I think for her to come out and say… Because what precedes that is she says something that turns him off, and she’s like, why are you so precious about this moment? Because this isn’t really about me fitting into your fantasy. This is about us fulfilling our sexual needs. And I should be able to say that without you judging me because men are able to say that. So why can’t I?
And of course she’s a teenager, so she’s going to put it… And being Lou, she’s going to put it in a very blunt, very graphic way. That’s who she is. She’s not going to have the foresight of somebody who is older to be like, let’s talk about this. Maybe we should talk about our roles and the power dynamics here. No, she’s a 17-year-old girl, and she’s Lou, and she comes from that environment. So she’s going to put it bluntly. But what she means is, let’s not… Stop trying to make me this type of person who doesn’t have sexual needs, and is only here to serve your sexual needs. I have sexual needs. This is what this was about. And stop trying to fit me into your fantasy. And of course, that turns him off, because he wants her to fit into this impossible role that women are supposed to fulfill for him. And that’s just that. I think she plays along a little bit at first, and then realizes, you know what, that’s not me. And then, of course, he throws her out of the car.
LRM Online: Well as a writer, I really enjoyed some of these… These were two that really caught on me, because I like how films just bring up topics that it’s like, hey, it’s okay for a girl to do the opposite of what’s expected. So as a writer, a compliment to you for that aspect. That’s why I wanted to cover this with you.
Mozaffari: Well, thank you. And I just wanted to also add that I think, to me, this is also breaking a traditional representation of teenage girls in film that I’d seen. I watched lots of films with teenage girls and coming of age films and I loved them. But there was this sort of trope that I wanted to get away from, which is this idea that teenage girls… There was this sort of like homogenizing of that experience of being coming into a loss of innocence during the course of the plot of a film or a book. But I didn’t want that, because those are not the type of girls that I grew up with. There’s some girls who… I don’t want to see a girl lose her innocence on screen necessarily anymore. I feel like why can’t they just be proudly sexual like boys are able to be. So that was also a big part of my thinking when it came to that moment.
LRM Online: And also the fact that not everybody comes… Not most teenagers grow up from the perfect family and that they’re troubled, and they just kind of are doing things just trying to survive their atmosphere really.
Mozaffari: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly.
LRM Online: Yeah. So as a director now, moving on, there was a scene where the girls are goofing off, playing around in a parking lot after the bar fight, bar scene, fight scene, and then the music. I mean, what were you trying to portray of Chantal and Lou for that scene?
Mozaffari: I think that, up until that point in the film, there was this build up to that moment where Lou smashes the car, and I wanted that moment in the parking lot, what we would call on set, the night montage. I wanted that to feel like a release for the audience. The audience at that point in the film needed a moment of reprieve, because there was this… At the beginning of the film, there’s a lot of feelings of elation and excitement and then we get kind of dark, and we get very intense, and I needed a moment, that’s kind of in the middle of the film, where the audience feels a release with the characters, a state of happiness, even if it’s just brief, you know what I mean? Kind of the calm before the storm, I guess.
But I wanted there to be moments throughout the film where you felt there was breaks, there was happy light breaks from the darkness and that was one of them. For me, the music and everything there, is trying to underscore this feeling of being free but also what’s constantly with the score, there’s always a darkness underneath. There’s always something that is lurking underneath the happiness and we really tried to make sure with the score that we were always tapping into that. But yeah, that, to me, is a moment of pure freedom before we go underwater again, so to speak, before we become trapped again.
LRM Online: I liked it. I actually liked it, because it makes you kind of maybe relate with these characters, like that freedom of something you did. You can’t really show your innocence and stuff, but you’re doing something for yourself, by smashing that windshield from Lou. Going back to Jesse, Lou’s little brother, I mean, I was not expecting this side of Jesse, in reference to the makeup. Is this from your original?
Mozaffari: No, Jesse in the original was again… I always see him as kind of the light of the film. He’s a character in the film. A lot of the characters end up on a spectrum of both kind of good and bad, but he’s purely innocent. And you need a character like that in this film, that’s just purely good, and purely the light basically, the happiness. And, yeah, I thought about that because I drew a lot of influence from my own younger brother, who I don’t have a relationship with anymore. But I remember in my family, he wouldn’t wear makeup, so to speak, but he would wear a lot of jewelry and he liked to express himself. My Dad would shame him for that. And I took that, and I exaggerated it for the character of Jesse. And for me, again, it falls back into the idea of these themes that I’m exploring anyway, which is this idea of what it’s like for a man or a male person to fit into this idea of the patriarchy, this system of patriarchy.
And I don’t know what Jesse… How he will identify in the future. I don’t know his sexuality. I never decided that for him. But what I did decide is that he didn’t fit into this image of masculinity, and very outdated traditional idea of masculinity, that his mom wanted for him. And Lou doesn’t really fit into the traditional idea of femininity either. But I liked the idea that, his struggle is that that he doesn’t fit into that, but his mom really wants to push him into that box. And at the end of the film, you see him, basically in his own small, quiet way, rebelling against that. And to me, it’s the idea of thinking about the next… Not only that character, and his future of being maybe like the next Lou in that family, being very bold and very individual, knowing his individuality, but also to me it represented the new generation of young people going forward, and maybe the people who will fully topple the patriarchy in the future. Is this new generation, younger generation, who is brave enough to experiment with their individuality.
LRM Online: Well, Jasmine, thank you. And I’m taking away a lot from this film, a lot of reality out there, and I’m sure a lot of the viewers will do the same.
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