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“Shayda” Movie Review, Live Streaming & Download

shayda 2024

Writer-director Noora Niasari’s debut feature, “Shayda,” is a personal meta-fiction based on her own childhood, marked by a fraught parental dynamic and endless uncertainty, but also fierce, unshakeable motherly love. “Shayda”’s titular character (played by Zar Amir Ebrahimi) has escaped her abusive husband in Iran and fled to safety in Melbourne with her young daughter, Mona (Selina Zahednia). Boarded in a women’s shelter, run by the compassionate and protective Joyce (Leah Purcell), every day Shayda claws for stability and safety amidst the fear that her husband Hossein (Osamah Sami) might find them.

While Shayda is terrified of discovery, the circumstances of her hiding are no less comfortable. The fear of Hossein’s physical violence is matched with an alternative emotional violence: oppressive paranoia, a duo of racist housemates, and the threat of being revealed by the more traditional members of Melbourne’s Iranian community. Throughout “Shayda” is a duology of longing for liberation: escaping an abusive home as well as combating internalized shame birthed by traditional values, principles that direct her to accept Hossein’s abuse, because as his wife, it is her duty to serve him. Even as her mother laments on the phone, “at least he’s a good father.” 

The story of “Shayda” is moving, though ordinary. The spectrum of emotion is captured, from tension to joy to despair, but the way the film moves through them is plain at best and bland at worst. The film’s predictable structure and story doesn’t hook you into its pathos, instead it’s the performances from Ebrahimi and Zahednia. They have wonderful chemistry as mother and daughter, and at times Zahednia’s performance is so palpably genuine that it thrusts Shayda’s character into the background of a scene. But Ebrahimi’s restraint is touching. As Shayda fears being known, we feel the consequential aloof disposition from the other side of the screen, though at times we beg for the veil to lift.  

Both actresses ace what is expected of them, working off Niasari’s script, which is strongest in moments of expressive silence. The dialogue is often on the nose, always making its point known, rather than entrusting the audience to arrive at the conclusion empathetically. 

Dance is an element that Niasari excellently includes to convey moments of relief and hope. In a dark bedroom at night, Shayda pleads for a way to ease Mona’s tension. In an overcrowded club, she pleads for her own sigh-ful moment in a life of bated breaths. And at an overjoyed celebration for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, she is awash with yellows and reds and embracing a feeling of freedom. These pockets of release introduce a heartfelt kinetic splash into the pond of the rest of the film’s anxiously stagnant waters. It breaks up the pacing with hope.

The differing values of the diaspora hold a commanding presence in the film. The rigidity of life vs. fluidity of motion is at constant odds as Shayda reckons with her own desires and methods of escape as well as the overbearing traditionalism that tries to knock her down. From divorce to education, the doctrine of this sect of her culture demands compliance she is not willing to give, and while some in her community embrace her, others, like Hossein, seek to punish her. Even in a high-stakes, climactic encounter with her husband, as bystanders attempt to shield her, other men proclaim “he has a right to see his wife.” And so ensues a collision between masculine rights, moral consequences, and female agency—and these totems of reality persist emphatically and emotionally throughout the film’s runtime.

“Shayda” wields an aptly sharpened arrow to point at holes in the intersection of culture and feminism, but what it seems to lack most is an equally crafted point of view. Niasari consulted her mother for input on their lives during the period with which the film is inspired, since her youth has now resulted in a blurred set of memories, and this disjunction is felt as “Shayda” hops and skips between subjective perspectives and an overarching voyeuristic eye. The thesis of the film at times feels like it takes precedence over the narrative, and thus erects a wall that dampens both.

Shayda movie poster

Shayda (2024)

117 minutes

Cast

Zar Amir Ebrahimias Shayda

Osamah Samias Hossein

Leah Purcellas Joyce

Jillian Nguyenas Vi

Mojean Ariaas Farhad

Selina Zahedniaas Mona

Rina Mousavias Elly

Lucinda Armstrong Hallas Renee

Bev Killickas Cathy

Director

  • Noora Niasari

Writer

  • Noora Niasari

“Shayda” Movie Review, Live Streaming & Download Movie Review, Live Streaming & Download

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