What is the meaning of home? People often cite the age-old adage “home is where the heart is.” For immigrants, however, the definition is often more complicated. Is it your beloved homeland where you can no longer live, or the new place where you’ve settled but don’t fully fit in? In his debut feature No Hard Feelings, Iranian-German director Faraz Shariat sympathetically portrays this duality of immigrant identity.
Shariat centers his story on the perspective of a young man named Parvis (Benny Radjaipour), a second-generation Iranian-German. Gay and sexually liberated, he enjoys an active social life of dancing and spontaneous hookups. When his carefree attitude puts him in trouble with the law, however, he is forced to perform community service by working at a refugee center. There he meets Banafshe (Banafshe Hourmazdi) and her brother Amon (Eidin Jalali), recently arrived from Iran. The trio quickly strike up a friendship and in the case of Parvis and Amon, a blossoming romance. But forces outside of their control threaten to keep them apart.
Indeed, the trio face an array of challenges in living their lives to the fullest. For Amon, it’s the homophobia of his typically macho friends. For Banafshe, it’s the threat of deportation. And for Parvis, it’s the subtle racism he encounters on a nearly daily basis.
Despite the serious issues at hand, Shariat maintains a light touch throughout this appropriately titled drama. As if to protect his characters, Shariat never forces them to confront the more severe implications of their problems. Simpler conflicts feel underexplored too, including the intergenerational tensions between Parvis and his refreshingly open-minded parents. When his mother laments that he hasn’t shown that he belongs in this German society, it isn’t clear exactly what she expects of him.
While the script doesn’t cut very deep with regards to their unique immigrant struggles, the film shines in capturing the characters’ pride and joy. In one self-aware scene, Banafshe even remarks to a smiling Amon, “you look like you’re in a cheesy coming-of-age movie.” Meanwhile, Parvis’ vivacious spirit is infectious throughout. His personality seems to inform the film’s exquisitely lit and composed aesthetic, whether it’s the neon-lit euphoria of the dance floor or a posy slow motion montage showcasing the various immigrant communities.
Although No Hard Feelings could have benefited from a more rigorous exploration of the social issues surrounding its premise, it still marks a promising outing for first-time writer-director Faraz Shariat. There’s an undeniable sense of poetry to its visual and verbal expressions of youth. And in a less than perfect world where fear and hate are all too prevalent, you can do far worse than a film that so beautifully celebrates love, family and friendship.