No Hard Feelings follows a love affair between a German-Iranian teen and an Iranian refugee. Here, director Faraz Shariat and lead actor Benjamin Radjaipour discuss the making of the film and its reception
Faraz Shariat arrived at the premise for his debut feature, No Hard Feelings, a year into his community service at a refugee centre in Cologne, following an arrest for shoplifting at an expensive department store. “I was smoking in front of the hotel where people were staying and asked someone for a light,” the German-Iranian director tells AnOther. “I asked in Farsi and because I have an accent, he realised I wasn’t born in Iran. He asked if I was born here [in Germany], I said yes and he was like ‘lucky you’. It was small, but it clearly shows how, to a normative white gaze, we look the same but actually, we don’t have the same privileges.” The interaction would go on to inform one of the film’s seminal moments.
Written by Shariat and Paulina Lorenz – with casting by Raquel Molt, with whom they make up the Jünglinge film collective – No Hard Feelings is a coming-of-age story that unfolds at the intersection of queerness and immigration. Rejecting the common narratives that place either component in a negative space – migrant stories in particular Shariat notes, are often told in the context of victims and perpetrators – the film straddles immense joy with affecting emotion, submerged in a brilliant pop-leaning aesthetic. “It’s not trying to exploit the misery of the characters,” agrees Benjamin Radjaipour who plays Parvis, the nucleus of the film. “It’s a very different perspective for a film that deals with problematic topics. And being a person of Iranian descent here in Germany and having dealt with the questions the film contemplates, it was a gift.”
A German-Iranian teen doing community service as a translator at a refugee centre, Parvis lives openly with his devoted parents (played by Shariat’s own mother and father), and a sibling 10 years older. Primarily born from the director’s experiences, he’s ultimately the product of discussions between Shariat and Radjaipour that entertained the political and cultural landscape of modern Germany. “We definitely started with what Faraz brought in terms of his experiences and what he wanted to tell; what kind of identity we wanted to present,” the actor says. “We talked a lot about what we wanted him to look like and move like as it was clear we wanted a really strong, unapologetic character who’s also femme in their queerness.”
Parvis is largely carefree, swiping bottles from behind nightclub bars, posing with sushi for selfies, and scoring hook-ups through Grindr. In one scene the latter ecstasy is cut short when a partner drops some casual racism, to which Parvis utters the line “no hard feelings, I’m not really into pretentious whiteys either”. When he befriends Iranian refugee siblings Amon (Eidin Jalali) and Banafshe (Banafshe Housemazdi), ultimately falling for the quiet, brace-wearing Amon, his perspective shifts. The actors formed a close bond on set, along with most of the cast and crew, says Radjaipour, and the trio’s intimacy bleeds onto the screen as the characters eat brightly coloured sweet laces in an empty car park until the early hours.
Citing directors Andrea Arnold and Desiree Akhavan as prominent influences, it was 48 hours of his dad’s digitised VHS footage, shot throughout his childhood, that had the most intentional effect on the five-year project. Several clips became part of the film, a move Shariat highlights as “the possibility to inhabit my dad’s gaze upon arriving in Germany. I was born into this post-migrant situation of arriving, building a home and so on, and this footage so vividly tries to engrave proof that we are here and we have a future.” The film’s opening clip spotlights a young Shariat, dressed in a Sailor Moon costume singing and dancing into the camera, a German football match playing on a background TV. “It’s probably the queerest image in the whole film,” he says.
The Sailor Moon motif makes further cameos across the film: Parvis embodies the character at an ‘over-30s costume party’ while the closing credits are scored by the cartoon’s German theme song. “It’s funny because my cousin was obsessed with Sailor Moon,” Radjaipour recalls of his own relationship with the cartoon. “I got obsessed too, though not as much as Faraz, but the theme song hit home. When you look at Sailor Moon, she’s blonde, skinny, tall … I love to rewrite the narrative, with Parvis being a little chubby queer kid, just feeling their Sailor Moon fantasy; what it means to so many people, putting something else in its shoes.”
Among the last films to enjoy this year’s festival circuit before the coronavirus shut everything down, No Hard Feelings received the Teddy Award for best LGBTQ-themed feature film in Berlin following its premiere, as well as picking up a reader-voted award at the same event and winning Best First Feature Film at Canada’s Inside Out Film and Video Festival. “It’s disorientating; there’s this complex of being tokenised,” the filmmaker says. “I remember vividly after we received the first award, we were all like ‘this is so exciting’, but we were unsure if we had been awarded for the perspective or our talents. I would be lying though if I said it’s not flattering; even to be at these festivals is an act of empowerment in a way, and I’m very happy about the awards.”
No Hard Feelings premieres on digital platforms including Amazon on 7 December.