Rating: PG-13, thematic material involving domestic abuse, some violence and language
Release Date: December 1, 2023
Jeanne: It’s difficult enough to be a victim of domestic abuse, now imagine suffering that fate in a foreign country. Writer/director Noora Niasari has penned a powerful screenplay for her film SHAYDA based on her own experiences as a five-year-old living with her mother in an Australian women’s shelter.
Starring Zar Amir Ebrahimi, the 2022 best actress winner at Cannes for HOLY SPIDER, as Shayda, an Iranian woman with a six-year-old daughter, Mona (Selina Zahednia), who is forced to seek safety in a women’s shelter in Melbourne, Australia. She is aided throughout this journey of refuge by Joyce (Leah Purcell), an Australian case worker, who is --- thankfully --- kind, compassionate and tough.
With Joyce’s help, Shayda has filed for divorce and is trying to forge a new life for herself and Mona, free of the demands of her husband, Hossein (Osamah Sami), including how she must dress. But a judge steps in and gives Hossein visitation rights, causing Shayda to fear for her safety and the possibility that Hossein will kidnap Mona and return with her to Iran.
SHAYDA is Niasari’s feature debut and her script is both joyful and heartbreaking. The approach of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is cause for much celebration. Shayda, hoping for a modicum of normalcy for Mona, teaches her to dance and sing. A party at a friend’s begins a wonderful evening, only to end in disaster.
Ebrahimi gives a magnificent performance. Without saying a word, every emotion is perceived through her eyes and facial expressions. To navigate this new path to freedom with a young child and no family is treacherous enough, yet alone in a country not your own. Her portrayal of Shayda is exceptionally nuanced, solid and heartrending.
And Ebrahimi’s chemistry with Zahednia’s Mona is remarkable. These two could definitely be mother and daughter. Zahednia is beyond precious and a very talented actor. Repeating “I am not afraid” in Farsi over and over when terrorized by her father is gut wrenching ---
her fear is palpable.
Niasari has dedicated SHAYDA to her mother and “the brave women and girls of Iran”, who are currently leading a revolution in that country for their freedoms. Her film is a beautiful tribute to suppressed women everywhere.
Opinion: See It Now!
David: SHAYDA is Australia’s entry for the Best International Feature Film at the next Academy Awards. It tells the engaging story of an abused Iranian wife and mother who seeks protection and anonymity with her six-year-old daughter in a woman’s shelter in Melbourne.
Zar Amir Ebrahimi plays the title role while Selina Zahednia portrays her daughter Mona who almost steals the movie. Mona has a grand time whenever she is with her mom, but after a judge awards visitation rights to Shayda’s estranged husband, Hossein (Osamah Sami), Mona is conflicted. Selina’s performance alone is worth watching SHAYDA. She is amazing at such a young age. And Sami’s turn as the angry husband is both believable and frightening. We’re not sure if and when he will explode. The supporting cast, primarily portraying other women at the shelter, is splendid.
Ebrahimi won the 2022 best actress award at Cannes for HOLY SPIRIT. In SHAYDA she is truly outstanding. Shayda’s disdain for Hossein is unmistakable, as is her enjoyment of freedom from Iranian policies towards women. For example, she enjoys dancing and showing off her hair in public.
SHAYDA is not a perfect film by any standards, but it does sustain our interest as we wonder how Shayda’s relationship with Hossein will play out. She also has a platonic flirtation with Farhad (Mojean Aria) which proves to be a major source of strife with Hossein.
SHAYDA is writer/director Noora Niasari’s feature length debut. She based her writing on personal experience as a five-year-old.
Opinion: See It Now!