Shayda (2023) Film
Madman Entertainment
For first-time director Noora Niasari, Shayda is more than a story about an immigrant mother; it's personal. Based on her own experiences living in a women's shelter in Australia in the 1990s, Shayda takes the point of view of Niasari's Iranian mother as she has to grapple with assimilation into this new culture and a hostile divorce from her abusive husband. It's yet another example of how intimate personal dramas can reach the heart of any viewer, no matter what age or nationality. By telling her family's story in an honest and vulnerable way, Niasari creates something that isn't niche but incredibly universal and resonant. Produced by fellow Aussie Cate Blanchett and praised by critics at Sundance and Locarno alike, Shayda is a story as timeless as it is borderless, as beautiful as it is cathartic.

Zar Amir Ebrahimi. Niasari is credited for bringing this story to the world, and it is lead actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi who makes this role her own. Many will recognize Ebrahimi for her star turn only last year in the Iranian diaspora film Holy Spider, in which she played a hard-nosed reporter determined to do whatever it takes to catch a dangerous fundamentalist serial killer. While Holy Spider may have won her the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress, Shayda proves that she isn't a flash in the pan, but a bright star with so much more to give. Ebrahimi skillfully oscillates between quiet fragility and strength sometimes, in the same breath. Whether we're watching her bravely recount her abuse at the hand of her husband or desperately wait for her daughter to return from an unsupervised visit with her father, there isn't a false note in sight. When acting alongside her on-screen daughter Mona, played brilliantly by newcomer Selina Zahednia, it's easy to imagine you're watching a home video.

Complex Characters. The film triumphs in the grey areas between hope and helplessness, light and dark. While most other movies focusing on women escaping abusive relationships would depict their former partner as simply a brutish and unfeeling person, Shayda takes a more human route. Hussein, Shayda's ex-husband and Mona's father are at times, frightening but also pitiful — driven by desperation to keep his family intact. Though never justifiable, he is understandable. Miraculously, Niasari's closeness to the story never becomes an obstacle — we see the nuances in every person, no matter how difficult.

In light of the recent Mahsa Amini protests in Iran over women's rights, it isn't hard to imagine why a movie about an Iranian woman finding her voice and independence would be making waves. It's a mistake to think the film's success is just a product of timing. Watch the film, and you'll know exactly why. Though separated by decades and continents, Shayda's story remains powerful and profound.