“The future is ours” says Banafshe, an Iranian woman in Germany on the verge of deportation, towards the end of No Hard Feelings (Futur Drei). If the film’s previous eighty minutes hadn’t been rendered with all the colour and vibrancy of a kaleidoscope, you might find this message remarkably optimistic: Hope, really, in this economy? Yet this is the refreshing M.O. delivered throughout by twenty-six year old debutant director Faraz Shariat, who confidently derives a vivid coming-of-age narrative from his own experience as a migrant translator in his teens.
Parvis, a second-generation German-Irani living in Lower Saxony with his hardworking migrant parents, is a bit of a kleptomaniac: On his birthday he steals a bottle of champagne from the bar of a vibrant gay club, and later, he plucks sweets from a rack at his parents’ supermarket. His naughty deeds find him slapped with one-hundred-and-twenty hours of community service, and like Shariat, he is drafted in as a translator at a migrant detention centre. First is a woman whose Farsi dialect he struggles to understand; in a bid to save her from deportation, he tells migration officers that she is pregnant.
Parvis’ tears suggest a solemn conclusion and he is approached by the handsome Amon, one of the many migrants in limbo. “The first one is always the hardest,” he tells him in Farsi, assuming that Parvis has just undergone his own rigorous examination. He places a handful of nibbles in Parvis’ hands – a whisper of solidarity between those displaced. Their fingers brush and tentative glances are shared. Are those wedding bells we hear?
Let’s be clear: This is not a queer coming-of-age tale of the coming out tradition that has long been de rigueur and is thus, now, overdone. Shariat makes this explicit at the expense of Call Me by Your Name in a brilliant wig-snatch moment: “Amon, you look like you’re in some cheesy coming-of-age movie” says Banafshe, the two riding bikes through an idyllic countryside. It is more a story of migrant identity, of finding one’s place and maintaining one’s optimism in a world hostile to your ethnicity, than it is of battling one’s desires. Like Weekend and God’s Own Country before it, queerness in No Hard Feelings is largely (but not entirely) incidental.
A more direct comparison might be found in Stephen Cone’s Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party, which seeks to reconcile queerness with traditionalism in similar ways. Unique to Futur Drei, however, are the implicit questions of national identity and what constitutes “home”; is it, as in Parvis’ case, the country which allows him to be queer but sneers at his skin colour, or the birthplace of his parents, where he’s not even sure there’s a non-prerogative word for “gay”? It’s a tricky conundrum handled delicately by Shariat, showcasing wisdom beyond his years, rooted in his obvious endearment to his heritage.
In a March interview with the BFI, Shariaz rightly pointed out that the heterosexual “imagination” of gay screen sex is often inauthentic. Sex rarely reflects reality in film, of course, but decades of getting the basics wrong – spit as an ignorant stand-in for lubricant, and not a condom wrapper in sight – has alienated queer audiences. The mirror needs a buff and a shine, as Shariat states later on: “I think it’s very important for us to demystify what [gay sex] is.” You might say this mission is evidenced by No Hard Feelings, where the sex is hot, messy and clearly scripted by someone who has actually done it before. A filmmaker who knows what rimming is, what a breath of fresh air!
Not that only the explicit matters. To get young love is to capture passions most impromptu. In No Hard Feelings this comes in the form of a hungover snuggle, the two leads exploring one and other’s faces with their mouths. The camera is so close as to see the cracks in their lips and bristles of their facial hair; you feel as though you should smell the literal coffee (and, indeed, vodka breath). It’s greatly immersive, bubbling with unashamed desire.
There are some faults. No Hard Feelings’ prismatic design occasionally feels lurid – it serves to amplify the film’s optimism, sure, but there is such a thing as too much. The last sixth of the film veers slightly off kilter, too, with a magical realist montage celebrating Germany’s recent migrant tradition. The intention is admirable but it’s slightly underwhelming in execution.
These are small niggles to be had for a first feature, though. No Hard Feelings is a great calling card for Shariat, who is clearly one for the future. It’ll be interesting where he goes with his sophomore film; whether he continues to tackle the issues of such clear personal importance or feels as though this particular narrative has been exhausted. Whatever the conclusion is, this is sure to grab attention.
This review is from the 44th Frameline Festival, which takes place virtually September 17 – 27. This digital screening is available to view between 12:01am Thursday, September 17 and 11:59pm Sunday, September 27. The screening at 9:00pm Friday, September 18 will be followed by a Q&A.