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Shayda Review

by Daniel Reynolds
3.0 out of 5.0 stars

There’s a well-meaning immediacy to Shayda, written and directed by Noora Niasari. The film attends to the granular details of a woman’s life lived in exile—no thanks to an abusive husband. From that starting point, the title character, now stranded in an Australian women’s shelter, tries to take care of her young daughter and, as befits an all-to-common reality, escape the threat of further violence.

This setup makes for an inherently dramatic situation in Shayda, which dutifully expands to include the cultural differences at play too. Brought to life by Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Shayda is an Iranian woman of the mid-90s straining against the restrictions of the country she left behind. In this, her husband Hossein (Osamah Sami) doubles as both her abuser—who remains close by because of their daughter Mona (Selina)—and her presumptive last link to the home she once had. Again, the film’s situation is dramatic, and Ebrahimi successfully carries on throughout via a fully formed performance that captures both the fearsome effects of trauma and her character’s journey toward relief. What’s missing from Niasari’s narrative, however, is any element that goes beyond the diagrammatic. Or to put it another way: there’s not much to learn from this film, with its story playing out in unsurprising ways that, while realistic, rob it somewhat of its power. That doesn’t mean the film is without merit (a story doesn’t need twists and turns to be effective per se), but Niasari’s efforts, however well-intentioned, call attention to something else: this is a film, like other films, and not real life.

Still, the details of Shayda do make the film something to see. This is clear in the way it captures the relationship between mother and daughter (and grandmother), how it illuminates the lives of this specific transposed Persian community, and through its descent into the heart of darkness that is an abusive relationship. Whether we learn anything “new” becomes somewhat immaterial in that light—it can be enough for the film to serve as a reminder.

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