Review: No Hard Feelings
by Kaleem Aftab
- BERLINALE 2020: This year's Teddy Award winner, lathered with storylines of homosexuality, migration and assimilation, heralds German helmer Faraz Shariat as a new director to watch out for
Given that one of the first, and still one of the best, films about second-generation life is My Beautiful Launderette, Stephen Frears’ 1985 adaptation of Hanif Kureshi’s novel set during the Thatcher years and starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Gordon Warnecke as love-struck men, it’s sad that there has not been more work exploring homosexuality and race. Those that have, have often focused on generational conflict and cultural rejection. Finally, that hole has been plugged somewhat by the arrival of Faraz Shariat’s No Hard Feelings [+see also:
interview: Faraz Shariat
film profile] in the Panorama section of the 70th Berlin Film Festival. The winner of this year's Teddy Award, it’s a film that has so many sources of conflict, and such a focus on homosexuality, family, refugees, migration and love, that it could easily have fallen into a melodramatic hellhole. But instead, Shariat marks himself out as the future of queer cinema with a story about the barriers to cultural assimilation.
A VHS home video of a German-born boy with roots in Tehran singing and dancing in a dress next to his parents’ television set opens No Hard Feelings. A couple of decades later, his parents call Parvis-Joon (Benjamin Radjaipour) on New Year’s Eve as he enters a club. The seemingly fun club scene ends abruptly when the German boy he is kissing asks, “So where are you from?” It’s the most infuriating question that a second-generation youth can hear: for the German, it feels like an innocent inquiry, while for Parvis it is an attempt at othering, making him feel like an outsider in his homeland. Some people will never see him as German, despite all of the various aspects of his assimilation. The question of “Who am I?”, more than Parvis’s homosexuality, dominates the story, which is based on the director’s own personal experiences. Parvis has come to be accepted by his family and his shopkeeper parents for who he is, and there is no ill will towards him on account of his sexual preference, only his penchant for shoplifting. It’s a narrative decision that allows Shariat to explore how gay migrants are treated in Germany, by Germans and by those migrating from other countries. It’s a new, more interesting angle.
The tone is light. Parvis, with his blond hair, is a fun, likeable guy, who can be a bit of a dimwit, as demonstrated when he tries to translate for the Red Cross at a refugee centre. The story veers from funny to sad like a swing in a playground. At the refugee centre, Parvis befriends siblings Banafshe (Banafshe Hourmazdi) and Amon (Eidin Jalali), who are waiting to find out whether they can stay in Germany. Others at the refugee centre are immediately wary of his homosexuality – “That shit is contagious,” says one. Shariat plays with the fact that while Germans look down on Parvis, his status is superior to those seeking refuge. Every sexual encounter with a German seems to end in some sort of racial stereotyping.
It’s a shame that the sex is so graphic in a film that is otherwise reasonably light in tone, as this will ensure that only older audiences will be allowed to see the movie. It already has a 16 rating in Germany, but this excellent intersectional tale about identity deserves to have as broad an audience as possible.
No Hard Feelings is a German production staged by Jünglinge Film in co-production with Jost Hering Filme, Iconoclast Germany and La Mosca Bianca Films. Its international sales are managed by m-appeal.
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