Shayda directed by Noora Niasari won the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The film is co-executive by Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton. It opened Sundance Film Festival on January 19th.
An Iranian woman living in Australia, Shayda finds refuge in a women’s shelter with her frightened 6-year-old daughter, Mona. Having fled her husband, Hossein, and filed for divorce, Shayda struggles to maintain normalcy for Mona. Buoyed by the approach of Nowruz (Persian New Year), she tries to forge a fresh start with new and unfettered freedoms. But when a judge grants Hossein visitation rights, he reenters their life, stoking Shayda’s fear that he’ll attempt to take Mona back to Iran.
— SundanceFilmFestival (@sundancefest) January 27, 2023
Drawn from personal experiences, Iranian-Australian filmmaker Noora Niasari’s powerful debut feature is a beautifully crafted, poetic vérité portrayal of courage and compassion, anchored by a heart-rending performance by Zar Amir Ebrahimi (2022 Cannes’ best actress award winner for Holy Spider). Ebrahimi captures the vulnerability and confliction, but also the radiant soul of an Iranian woman who boldly reclaims her human rights: to divorce her husband, keep her child, and dress as she chooses.
Cate Blanchett spoke to Deadline about her involvement and what she hopes the audience take away from the film.
“The most powerful and lasting effect of dramatic narrative is not ‘goodies and baddies’, but the murky spaces of motivation and desire and the more complex understanding of social and cultural power relations. Noora’s work has a clear moral compass and simple instructive melodrama. Shayda is tender and heartbreakingly vulnerable in its exploration of a disintegrating family, which anyone of any gender or culture can hopefully make a connection with and understanding.”
The film is currently rated at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with nine reviews from verified critics.
Niasari nimbly and steadily deepens “Shayda” with a filmmaking style that carries traces of a documentarian’s off-the-cuff alertness, braiding it with qualities akin to a thriller. Through DP Sherwin Akbarzadeh’s fluid and immersive camera movements, the film’s opening is a perfect example of this verité-style intensity, as Shayda tries to familiarize Mona with different safety touch-points at an airport, in case Hossain tries to abduct her. Elsewhere, the filmmaker similarly makes sure that the idea of Hossain feels as terrifying as his image throughout, while we trace Shayda’s growing discomfort across malls, parks and nightclubs as she opens up to her liberated friend Elly (Rina Mousavi) and develops feelings for Elly’s relative Farhad (Mojean Aria).
Along with the rest of the troubled women in the shelter, these two characters seem somewhat underdeveloped, retrofitted to a complex narrative as obvious mouthpieces. But Ebrahimi overcomes these minor shortcomings, with a performance that’s deceptively simple, even regal, in conveying Shayda’s internalized battles through understated moments, with nothing more than a delicate look or a pregnant silence. Equally impressive are Zahednia as the wordlessly traumatized Mona — Niasari clearly has a special way with child actors — and Sami, a villain both blood-curdling and disturbingly familiar. The greatest asset of “Shayda,” however, is its unmistakably feminine spirit of perseverance, one that runs wild and free in this promising debut.
Full review on Variety
“Shayda” is most successful in encapsulating these details and thoughtfully reconstructing the world that Niasari and her mother occupied together. When you zoom out, however, the film loses some of its charm, with a rather predictable structure and a flimsy love interest plotline that feels like an afterthought. Still, the film retains its overall strength by focusing on its mother-daughter leads, their enduring bond, and their efforts to carve out a bit of serenity in a chaotic world.
Full review on Indiewire