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‘Shayda’ review: An Iranian mother fights for her daughter’s future in Australia’s powerful Oscar entry

‘Shayda’ review: An Iranian mother fights for her daughter’s future in Australia’s powerful Oscar entry
‘Shayda’ review: An Iranian mother fights for her daughter’s future in Australia’s powerful Oscar entry

Danger is never far away in Noora Niasari’s confident debut, a deeply personal tribute to a generation torn between tradition and modernity. Focus on the title character, Shayda depends on a vulnerable but powerful performance Holy spiderTsar Amir Ebrahimi plays an Iranian divorcee hiding from her abusive ex, who may be planning to smuggle her daughter Mona (Selina Zahednia) back to Iran.

This fear is reflected in the nervous opening scene, set in 1995, as Shayda and Vi (Jillian Nguyen), a sort of social worker, explore an airport with Mona in tow. Both women tell Mona what to do if she ever ends up there against her will, repeatedly pointing out that blue uniforms mean safety. Back at the women’s shelter, a residence in a top-secret neighborhood, Shayda wonders how she got to this point: In a very subtle explanation, her photo album reveals that she graduated in 1984 and got married the following year. Moving to Australia in 1991 seems to be the year the tectonic plates of their marriage began to move apart.

We already know this from Iranian film classics such as that of Asghar Farhadi a separation (2011), divorce is a very serious issue within the culture—so much so that Shayda even faces resistance from her own mother, who tells her, “No one has a perfect life,” adding, “At least he’s a good father.” But what’s interesting about the way Niasari tells this story is that it’s not about a woman’s escape to secularism; Shayda is proud of her Persian heritage and it is no coincidence that her story takes place against the backdrop of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. Mona learns Iranian words every day and Shayda even recites soothing song lyrics to a woman at the shelter who fears her son has been taken from her.

It’s unclear for a while whether the ex will show up or remain an off-screen presence, and when Hossein (Osamah Sami) finally arrives, he’s something of an anti-climax, leaving an almost- Food restaurant walk in. Lunch after the judge granted temporary access for half a day. When Hossein doesn’t return on time, Shayda fears the worst, but his passive-aggressive response – “I wouldn’t be late if I had more time with her” – is telling. Hossein’s attitude towards Shayda and women in general is condescending. An “educational” book about a father and his daughter that he shows Mona prompts her to ask, “What about Mom?” “No,” he says, “it’s all about Dad.”

This culture clashing aspect of the film is its richest seam. “Oh, so you’re a Western girl now,” Hossein quips, even though Australia isn’t exactly Western geographically and Shayda has developed her own thrift store look that seems to fall somewhere in between. The “progressive” friends that Hossein looks down on are students, and it is interesting to note that Shayda’s own study abroad ended when the regime in Tehran withdrew her scholarship. Like the regime, Hossein views independent thinking as rebellion and warns them: “You can change the way you look, but it doesn’t change who you really are.” In fact, he means it What She really is: to him she is his wife, his property.

Things heat up even more when Hossein follows her and takes incriminating photos that he believes prove she is unfaithful. At home, such evidence would be inflammatory – “They’ll kill you,” he says, without specifying who “they” are – and from here Shayda becomes somewhat more schematic in its narrative and reaches a climax that transforms the theme of intangible psychological violence into something immediate and real.

But even at its most conventional, Niasari’s film always respects the reality behind the fiction, suggesting the full spectrum of domestic violence in the implicit stories of the women who wander Shayda’s lair, whose shattered lives are held together by the quiet, heroic Vi. There is hope here, too, in the imaginative, thoughtful Mona, and the green shoots of innovation are everywhere; The only real measure of time passing in the film is a bowl of sprouted lentils that Shayda has next to the kitchen sink.

Title: Shayda
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Release date: December 1, 2023
Director/Screenwriter: Noora Niasari
Form: Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Selina Zahednia, Osamah Sami, Jillian Nguyen
Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes

Source: Deadline

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