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Israeli director’s latest movie is… in Farsi

Israeli film director of Iranian descent Yuval Delshad gestures during an interview with AFP reporters at his house in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, on December 8, 2015. — AFP
Israeli film director of Iranian descent Yuval Delshad gestures during an interview with AFP reporters at his house in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, on December 8, 2015. — AFP

Despite Iranian leaders speaking of the Jewish state’s destruction and Israel threatening a military strike if Tehran acquires nuclear arms, Israeli director Yuval Delshad’s new film is entirely in Farsi. “Baba Joon”, the first feature film in Israeli cinema to be shot in Iran’s national language, tells the story of a family of Iranian Jews living on a farm in southern Israel. In it, the Iran-born Delshad, 43, is basically thumbing his nose at the official stances of both nations in which they view each other as the devil incarnate. Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, between 80,000 and 100,000 Jews lived in Iran, mainly in Tehran, Isfahan and Mashhad.

By 2011, their number had fallen to 8,700, with the vast majority emigrating to the United States and Israel. “Baba Joon” is not at all political, focusing instead on the everyday lives of its characters. In September, it won the Ophir for Best Picture in Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars. In Delshad’s movie, the grandfather-the titular “Baba Joon” as he is affectionately known in Farsi-his son and grandson live under the same roof but struggle with incompatible dreams.

The grandfather has moved his Iranian poultry farm to Israel, his grandson Moti is rebelling as he enters adolescence and his father Yitzhak is stuck between generations. The child is played by Asher Avrahami, a 13-year-old Israeli Jew whose parents are of Iranian origin but who did not speak Farsi and had never set foot on a film set before. Navid Negahban, a Muslim actor born in Iran and now living in the United States, plays the father. He is most widely known as the Al-Qaeda leader Abu Nazir in the US hit television series “Homeland”.

Nostalgia for Iran
Delshad told AFP the cast bonded together very well. “On the set I said ‘cut’ and they would all sit in a corner and sing and dance to traditional Iranian music and talk about their areas of origin.” “Thanks to Iranian culture-this Iranian link-they got close so quickly, they formed a family. That is what we see in the film and that’s what I wanted.” The word Israel is not uttered once in the 90-minute film, and just a few lines in Hebrew hint at where the action is taking place. The director spent weeks on his motorcycle navigating the stony tracks of southern Israel looking for arid hills that could also bring to mind the Iranian countryside that Baba Joon left behind.

Generation gaps such as those depicted in the film are “international, I wanted the film to be international, so no one can say (the film) is for Israel or Iran”, Delshad said. The first immigrant generation in Israel after the revolution has maintained a strong cultural link and is steeped in nostalgia for Iran, which they are barred from visiting under the laws of both countries. “We had thousands of comments on our Facebook page from Iranians who want to see the film and who say they are proud that an Iranian-born Israeli director has made a film in their language,” Delshad said, adding that he hopes Iranians will “hack the Internet” to see the film.

He also voiced the belief that if his film could be seen in Iran, he could one day visit his parents’ country. “My generation will see Iran, it’s only a matter of time,” he said, arguing that an “Iranian Spring” is inevitable. “When I can go, I can assure you that I will go a lot-I probably won’t go to any other country.”-AFP

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