TheWrap Screening Series: ‘Baba Joon’ Filmmakers on ‘Lyrical’ Father-Son Journey

Yuval Delshad reveals actors spoke different languages when he cast them as family

Navid Negahban, Yuval Delshad, Viss Safavi and David Diaan

Movies about father-son dynamics tend to transcend language — but what about when the father and son in question don’t speak in the same tongue?

That was one of the impressive feats of “Baba Joon,” Israel’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film, director Yuval Delshad revealed at TheWrap’s Screening Series on Monday.

Moderating the affair at Los Angeles’ iPic Theater, TheWrap founder and editor-in-chief Sharon Waxman welcomed Delshad and cast members Navid Negahban (“Homeland”), Viss Elliot Safavi and David Diaan for a panel following the film.

“Baba Joon” follows Negahban as Yitzhak, an Iranian immigrant in Israel steeped in the tradition of his family turkey farm. Moti (Asher Avrahami), his 13-year-old son, is rebellious in a heartbreaking way: he cares not for his father’s birds and backbreaking labor, but rather to tinker in the garage with more modern hobbies.

Delshad said young Avrahami speaks only Hebrew, while Negahban understands just English and Farsi.

“This kid — he’s a superstar. He would communicate with me and he would look into my eyes, and I would put my hand on his chest,” said Negahban, who spent several seasons as the antagonist terrorizing Claire Danes‘ Carrie Mathison on “Homeland.”

“All of this emotion would come pouring out; he understood exactly what I was communicating.”

The tale is autobiographical for Delshad, who was stuck in religious school and toiled on his own family farm. After his military service, he became a videographer, which helped propel him into the world of filmmaking.

“When I grew up in that village until the age of 18, you don’t know anything,” he said. “I learned Torah every day and that’s it. I started to live my life after the army. I filmed weddings. You just imagine, but you cannot dream — I just knew that I wanted to do things my way. It came slowly … I sat down to write my script and it took me six years.”

Safavi plays family matriarch Sarah, full of sympathy for her very modern boy, but instilled with cliches to teach father and son how to relate to one another.

“A branch that doesn’t bend in a storm breaks. Weather the storm,” she tells her son, just a few scenes after she tells his father, “if you bend a branch too hard, it breaks.”

“It was going to be quite a lyrical, sensitive piece,” Safavi said of meetings with Delshad, “that’s the feeling I got.”

TheWrap is screening 18 foreign language entries for the Academy Awards this year. Get on the list by subscribing to FirstTake.