At dawn in an orderly, middle-class suburb in regional Germany, three young people — a girl and two guys — stagger home from a night out. Two of them are siblings, two of them friends and two of them are falling in love. One of them is very drunk and tripping over the long blond wig he wore all night, but in the flat light of early morning, it all seems somehow hilarious and easy because this is how it is to be young, even when there are asylum applications, cultural misunderstandings and language barriers hanging over your head.
The characters in Faraz Shariat’s buzzy, bright-eyed “No Hard Feelings” may grapple with overlapping aspects of their sexual and ethnic identities in their search for somewhere to belong — legally, socially, culturally and emotionally — but the vibrant, observant film they’re in, by contrast, knows exactly what it is: an immigrant love song set to a gay nightclub dance-pop beat with a defiant chorus of “We are the future.”
Unusually confident for a debut, Shariat’s partly autobiographical first feature centers on Parvis (Benjamin Radjaipour), the German-born son of Iranian exiles. With his bleached hair, bodycon fashions, correct colloquial use of the word “zhuzh” and a neat line in fey, sexy selfies, Parvis is unmistakably out and proud, and participates in a hedonistic round of Grindr hookups and constant partying. He is charming and popular — his immigrant parents, who run a supermarket, are, in the first of the film’s wryly expectation-defying turns, wholly supportive and loving to the point of indulgent, despite a lifestyle so utterly alien to the one they must have known at his age. But he is also callow and shallow and in some form of denial or dilemma about his background: When a random date, on whose tasteful oatmeal sofa a fairly explicit sex scene has just played out, makes a glancing reference to his ethnicity, Parvis bristles. He is clearly in need of a shock to the system to shake up his complacent idea of himself — the kind of shock that maybe only first love can provide.
Parvis is sentenced to 120 hours of community service for some minor infraction, and put to work at a nearby refugee detention center. His Farsi is good enough that he is assigned a translator position, but not so good that the first-generation Iranians do not privately mock his awful accent. On his first day, he locks eyes with Amon (Eidin Jalali), a soulful new arrival from Iran who is housed in the facility with his lively older sister Banafshe (Banafshe Hourmazdi). Despite Amon having to maintain a façade around his homophobic countrymen — “That shit is contagious,” they sneer — he and Parvis are drawn to each other, even as Parvis and Banafshe become confidants.
Plot-wise, there is very little more than that. But with characterization this appealing and a fresh-air feeling of newness and possibility that fizzes through DP Simon Vu’s sunny, lens-flared images and through the elastic, versatile, bouncing score and soundtrack, we hardly need anything more. And while it’s primarily Parvis and Amon’s love story, Shariat and Paulina Lorenz’ compassionate script accesses unexpectedly touching truths on all three sides of the triangle. The way Amon and Banafshe unquestioningly locate home in each other beautifully evokes a foundational sibling bond, while Banafshe and Parvis’ relationship may have no romantic component, but it, too, plays out like a falling-in-love, like a simpatico echo in the blood she shares with Amon.
All three actors impress, their different energies complementing each other in a way that makes their mutual attraction highly plausible. Radjaipour in particular is a find: Parvis evolves from an assimilated German rave kid, steeped in the effortless narcissism specific to middle-class Westerners who believe, on some unconscious level, that the world revolves around them, into a wiser, kinder, more open person, no longer insulated from the troubles of the world, or its true joys. But even when Parvis is at his cockiest and most insufferable, with just the softness of his brown eyes below his brassy dye job, Radjaipour convinces us there’s someone worth searching out beneath all the affectations.
“No Hard Feelings” is a love story, an immigrant tale and the announcement of an exciting new talent in Shariat. But it is also a coming of age, not just for Parvis but for a whole generation of displaced young people whose innate optimism for the future, despite all the hardships they may face, is a resource to be treasured. As ridiculous as it is for three twenty-nothings to believe they can somehow remake the world in their own hopeful image, it is also perhaps the best shot we’ve got.