Israeli director Yuval Delshad's award-winning film Baba Joon is playing to packed houses at film festivals. It stars an Iranian Muslim, Navid Negahban, playing a turkey farmer who is hoping his son Moti will take over the business. Report by Orly Minazad in LA Weekly.
Navid Negahban plays an old-school Jewish-Iranian trying to navigate religious and cultural divides
Baba Joon — which means “daddy dearest” — is the first film to
shine a light on the struggle of Jewish Iranians to build a new home
following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. Outside of L.A., Israel
boasts one of the world’s largest Iranian Jewish populations.
important as the film is for exploring the culture of a marginalized
minority, it also hit a lot of nerves for its cynical portrayal of
die-hard Judaism (where a blessing of good fortune and happiness is
literally for sale to the highest bidder) and for its depiction of the
stereotypical, old-school, belt-whipping Middle Eastern father.
Nonetheless, Baba Joon
has earned five Academy Ophir Awards (Israeli Oscars) including best
picture and is Israel’s best submission in the foreign-language category
for the 2016 Oscars, a major achievement for an Iranian-Israeli film
considering the recent and continuous conflict between Israel and Iran
(and pretty much all surrounding countries).
“One of the things that I like
about this film is that it went above and beyond all prejudice,”
Negahban says. “We had such a diverse group of people working with us,
Arabs and Israelis. We really became a family.”
Delshad, a distant
relative of Jimmy Delshad, former mayor of Beverly Hills, was somewhat
inspired by his own experience when writing this story about three
generations of stubborn Jewish Iranian men trying to navigate domestic
life through cultural and religious divides.
The film shifts back
and forth between Hebrew and Persian (cast members often had no idea
what the others were saying), sprinkled with some English and chock full
of proverbs (“if a branch doesn’t bend in a storm, it breaks” or “they
pet the horse with one hand and pull the tail with the other”) — the
preferred communication device for Iranians.
plays Yizkhak, a turkey farmer who hopes his son, Moti, will take over
the business the same way he did from his father, who moved the farm
from Iran to Israel. Moti, played by talented 14-year-old first-time
actor Asher Avrahami, has no intention of doing so.
“When I chose Navid, for me he was the anchor,” Delshad says. “I knew that I’m set. I built the family around him.”
story is male-dominated; the sole female role is Yitzkhak’s wife,
Sarah, played by Iranian-British actress Viss Elliot Safavi. “I think
it’s more interesting that she didn’t have a sisterhood,” says Safavi,
who, as Sarah, is a seemingly quiet wife busying herself with the task
of mending broken egos and actual broken backs.
Safavi even grew
out her eyebrows for Negahban to pluck in a very intimate and eerily
erotic scene. (Just imagine Abu Nazir aiming a sharp pointy object at
your eye over and over again.)
The plot centers around a visit
from the dapper American uncle (and prodigal son) Darius, after which
all hell — and some turkeys — break loose. Darius is the uncle you want
to get drunk with at family get-togethers. He’s funny, charismatic and
quick to reveal dark family secrets and exhume years of buried rage.
love the positive teachings of all faiths, but we know about some of
the problems blind faith creates,” says David Diaan, who plays Darius.
“One of the things I think Yuval did masterfully was [express] his
criticism of that kind of religious practice.”
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