Thursday, November 26, 2015

'Baba Joon' : struggles of stubborn Iranian Jews

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.

As 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.

Negahban 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.”

The 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.

“I 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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