“Shayda”: Beautiful Authenticity

I was intrigued when I read about this film. It seemed like it could be painful in some ways to watch but also offered insight. I also like seeing films where viewers get to experience events from another person’s perspective. After watching the film, I was captivated by the beautiful authenticity, the excellent performances and the realistic view of a woman trying to change her life.

“Shayda” is an Australian film written, directed, and co-produced by Noora Niasari. The film, inspired by Noora Niasari’s childhood experiences, follows an Iranian immigrant woman, Shayda (Zar Amir Ebrahimi), in Australia who is raising her young daughter, Mona (Selina Zahednia). The pair live in a women’s shelter while Shayda attempts to obtain a divorce from her abusive husband Hossein (Osamah Sami) during Nowruz sometime in the 1990’s. Shayda struggles with connecting with the other women, finding her own identity, and escaping the manipulations of her husband as he tries to prevent her leaving him. 

The story is particularly impactful, immediately giving a sense of both Shayda’s struggles and how her daughter is impacted by the abuse and divorce. The writing shows the difficulties women of any time period face in escaping an abusive marriage but particularly in a culture where the women don’t always have an identity beyond mother and wife. It shows the lack of support and how language can be a barrier to attempting to escape the situation as much as the controlling nature of the men and the culture. What helps is that we see both the positive and negative sides within the culture, moments where Shayda teaches Mona about the beautiful aspects of their culture and religion. And those moments highlight that is not the culture perhaps but those who embrace the more conservative aspects who are truly the issue. 

The narrative is skilled in presenting the struggles Shayda faces but also her victories. It is well balanced. We see how impacted Shayda is by the abuse, how she is scared of her husband and the PTSD trauma left behind from his behavior. Her fear of losing her daughter or having Mona stolen away when she visits her father is palpable. The writing also does a great job of presenting how others in her community feel about her, both for good and bad. It even takes her own mother time to come around and understand why she’s left her husband. However, we also see her victories as she learns to embrace her own strength and her love for Mona. We see her celebrate as she does make connections at the shelter and make friends despite her past.

The performance by Zar Amir Ebrahimi as Shayda is outstanding. She illustrates Shayda’s abuse and fears with emotion and power. She gives a great sense of the character’s struggle and how haunted she is by the abuse. She also illustrates how powerful Shayda is when she embraces her religion and her own strengths. The performance by Selina Zahednia playing Mona is poignant and there is a beautiful dynamic between the pair. Osamah Sami is skilled at depicting the manipulation and crumbling ego of Hossein. His performance is equally powerful in illustrating why Shayda wants to escape the marriage.

While the film is not easy to watch, due to the subject matter, it is powerful and emotional to watch. There are times when it slows and the pace does cause some of the emotion to falter. But overall, the brilliant performances and emotional undertones to the script will make viewers unable to look away as they watch this film about a brave woman and her daughter as they make their way to the light. 

If you like emotional and powerful films, I do recommend Shayda. Whether male or female, this film gives great insight into how impactful abuse can be but also the mother and daughter bond in the film is beautiful to behold. The film shows Iranian culture with beautiful authenticity and does not flinch from the abusiveness some women face. The acting is poignant, incredible and emotional, delving into complex emotions and highlighting the struggles abused women face. While not easy to watch, the film resonates with eloquence and intensity that will stay with you long after the movie is over

4.5 dances out of 5. 

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