2020s

Somewhere, There Is a Shelter: Queer Futurity in Faraz Shariat’s ‘No Hard Feelings’

No Hard Feelings Movie Film

Coming off of its Teddy Award win at Berlinale 2020, Faraz Shariat’s debut feature No Hard Feelings is a brilliant exploration of queer futurity through the lens of three Iranian young adults in suburban Germany. The film joins the ranks of Todd Haynes’ Poison and Carol, Rose Troche’s Go Fish, Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman, Lukas Moodysson’s Show Me Love and Daniel Ribeiro’s The Way He Looks as international queer films reaching the global stage. Existing synopses and reviews undersell this feat of queer imagination; No Hard Feelings is subtle in its subversiveness but grows more transformative and compelling with every subsequent watch.

On his Instagram, Shariat previously described No Hard Feelings as his “post migrant pop debut,” produced in part by Jünglinge (literally “youth,” plural), a “film collective of mid-twenties raised in the hybrid cultures of post-migrant Germany”’ of which Shariat is one of a trio. The young Iranian German writer/director crafts an aspirational energy that aims to transcend the white heteronormative reality of contemporary Germany. The film’s thematic core is best encapsulated through its German title, Futur Drei, telling the tale of a second-generation Iranian-German man — Parvis (Benjamin Radjaipour) —  and two Iranian siblings — brother Amon (Eidin Jalali) and older sister Banafshe (Banafshe Hourmazdi) — who are seeking asylum in Germany. 

Shariat places his characters amidst the careful suburban world in the city of Hildesheim, in part inspired by his own story in which he did community service at an accommodation center for asylum seekers. As Parvis begrudgingly spends time at the center, he is immediately attracted to the quietly expressive Amon, who shares a close bond with his sister Banafshe. Despite the focus on Parvis as the protagonist, Shariat also highlights the intimate familial relationship between the siblings, a kinship formed partly out of necessity to survive in this world and partly out of something beautiful and intangible, a certain acknowledgment that they’re two halves of the same soul. As the sibling who’s both more extroverted and much more proficient in German, Banafshe often becomes the spokesperson for the two of them.

No Hard Feelings cuts right to the chase — this isn’t a film about queer exploration or heartfelt admissions of love, but rather one about being young, queer and a person of color in white-majority Europe — and the genuine joys and tragedies that come with this. Parvis must balance his many worlds, including but not limited to his freedom with the siblings, his immediate attraction to the closeted Amon, finding a way to fulfill his sexual desires by hooking up with older men and donning the devoted and obedient child-of-immigrants façade while still living under his parents’ roof. Bouncing between stark homophobic encounters and his own share of racism in the gay community of suburban Germany, Parvis dwells in the happiness that he receives from raving in techno clubs and running around the city with the siblings, drunk and happy as he enjoys the friendship that the three of them hold. 

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No Hard Feelings Movie Film

While Parvis parties it up in strobe-lit clubs, Shariat unapologetically refuses the audience the shiny veneer of glamour that is often plastered on films about young adults; either something about them is one layer removed from reality or their stories aren’t taken seriously. Shariat immediately demonstrates that his film does not conform to the age of queerness that Hollywood is perpetually stuck in — that of repetitive coming-out stories, conservative families transcendentally overcoming their homophobia and tentative queer relationships that blossom but end in a tragic trope. Instead, No Hard Feelings takes queerness as a given, capturing queer joy onscreen while never losing sight of the stark realities of migrants seeking refuge in a still highly xenophobic Europe. 

In an embrace of what visual culture scholar José Esteban Muñoz calls “queer futurity” (that is, “the future is queerness” domain, the oft-quoted line from his transformative book on queer theory and political imagination, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity), Shariat asks viewers to take part in this gently utopic world and imagine what it could really be like. The protagonists take refuge, dancing to the music under the neon lights. The drab asylum center that often acts like a prison instead becomes their communal shelter. Hildesheim becomes their playground as they joyfully grab food at a late-night corner store, a spätkauf, and run free through the streets, clutching drinks and each other close as they lay softly in a parking lot while the morning sun rises. Shariat gives audiences a refreshing reversal of the somber — yet still very real — refugee story. He asks viewers to imagine a world in which asylum seekers — and more broadly, everyone — can enjoy, and deserve to enjoy, these suburban young adult pleasures otherwise not granted to them. It’s a world where they can bike out to the countryside and have a birthday party in a greenhouse (accompanied by a sly, self-aware remark that it feels like they’re in a silly coming-of-age movie) or gently drift off to sleep together having fallen all over each other, a world bound merely by their devotion toward each other.

Like many second generation immigrants, Parvis navigates the boxes in which he’s placed and the tenuous boundary between belonging and not belonging — he frustratedly huffs that in Iran, he’s not Iranian, and in Germany, he’s not German. Confused and a bit aghast, he learns his immigrant parents are considering moving back to Iran, their true home. Caught between their hard life in Germany, the couple ponders the futility and disappointment of having worked so hard to support their children, and yet Parvis still doesn’t feel like he belongs as a young queer man of color (on the other hand, his sister is happily married to a white man). Initially refuting this for his mother’s sake, he eventually admits his insecurities to Banafshe: “Some days I really feel like I do [belong] — I feel like yelling it in people’s faces: “I am the future!” — but then some days, I feel like we’re just reminders of our mothers’ and fathers’ pain.” However, in his trio, Parvis finally, truly, undoubtedly belongs.

In a cruel twist, the parents’ ability to choose between Germany and Iran is a privilege not afforded to the young Banafshe. As Parvis and Amon fall for each other, Banafshe remains the clear-headed grounding force in their lives just as she learns she will soon be deported back to Iran while Amon gets to stay. However, it’s not the return she fears; it’s the separation from the group — and, most importantly, her brother. This inevitable future forced upon her by the powers that be is tragic in more ways than one: three Iranian youths destined for three different paths beyond their control and free will. Nonetheless, in a continuation of queer futurity, Shariat moves toward the non-linear in the film’s third act and blurs the lines between what actually happens and the “imagined memories” of a freeing future. He takes this “future three” beyond the inevitable separation that looms over them and portrays what happens to them in a semi-alternate timeline. This is a world in which Banafshe, too, is able to explore her sexuality and Parvis and Amon are able to happily be out and together, a contrast from the brutal reality of having been caught together and physically assaulted by the other young asylum seekers.

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No Hard Feelings Movie Film

Shariat thus takes the viewer on a cross-cutting narrative journey through all that could have occurred had the protagoists’ German suburbia truly embraced who they are as both ethnic minorities and as young queer people. As the one departing, Banafshe takes on the role of the proxy narrator as she channels the aspirations and imaginations of the trio. Near the end of No Hard Feelings, Banafshe says, “Since we came here, I feel like I always experience everything twice: once as the person I could have been, and once as the person I am today.” While otherwise a sallow, sappy quote when taken out of context, the sentence acts as a verbal metonym for the film itself and takes on multiple meanings. On one hand, the chance to live a new life (who Banafshe is today) away from the constraints of contemporary Iranian society (who she could have been) entirely reframes the youthful existence of these characters. On the other hand, it also takes on the alternative meaning of still not being able to live out the full range of possibilities (who Banafshe could have been) of young adulthood given the racism and homophobia of contemporary Germany (who she is today). 

Later, Banafshe shouts an aspirational “Uns gehört die Welt!” (“The world is ours!”) coupled with a dreamlike montage of the trio with glasses of wine —the peak of young adult opulence. Shariat provides Banafshe with the most opportunity to explore who she could have been (and perhaps who she is in this realm of possibility in an alternate timeline), decked out in attire, aesthetic and style evoking Sri Lankan British “pop diaspora” artist M.I.A. and her Bad Girls” music video, rapping while standing on top of a car. In these “memories,” Banafshe even shares a passionate kiss with one of the asylum center workers with a soft spot for the trio. She is able to live an entirely new and unexplored part of herself — one made real by possibilities imagined by queer futurity rather than reality itself. 

For this future three, imagination is the gateway to living full lives, even when separated by social, cultural and national borders. No Hard Feelings is a story of Iranian, suburban and queer diaspora that dares to ignore the traditional and explore what queer futurity might look like onscreen (with a delightful German and Iranian diasporic soundtrack featuring music by transgender Iranian Canadian rap artist Säye Skye). While the film is firm about the “reality” that the trio lives through, it continues to offer up shared imagination as a perfectly viable reality — one removed from the harshness of the dry, desaturated, often devastating life that must follow because of the world in which they (and we) live. 

No Hard Feelings Movie Film

Shariat also subverts the nature of conventional cinematic endings by simultaneously providing hope and heartbreak that doesn’t bind the viewer to one clear message. Rather, audiences are able to take it as they may, piecing together the mosaic of sequences to create a more complete image of the futures of the three of them, whatever that looks like based on the viewer’s interpretation of events. No Hard Feelings does not seek to exploit audiences’ tear ducts and capitalize upon the inevitable sorrows of queer growth; this is, thankfully, no Call Me by Your Name — cry-into-the-fire film — but rather a call to arms and a call for other queer creators to draw upon their own experiences and tell them how they imagine them, not how life dictates they should be told.

Shariat’s film is clearly no fantasy world; the harsh realities of the trio’s world still define their physical lives, but they choose not to let it define their emotional ones. No Hard Feelings drives toward queer futurity in unexpected ways and is an absolutely remarkable debut for the young director. Shariat very effectively demonstrates that young queer people are exactly the right people to tell their own stories and are very much up to the task. In providing both a sign-off to Amon and the viewer, Banafshe ends the film with hopeful parting words, one that leaves audiences with a profound sense of Shariat’s cinematic message: “We’ll have each other for the rest of our lives. You’ll hear from me soon. Now I really have started to move. And so have you. The future is ours.”

Olivia Popp (@itsoliviapopp) is a film, television and culture writer with a particular interest in stories about suburbia, queer socialization, Asian America and speculative worlds.

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