Cate Blanchett on helping bring “Shayda” to the screen

Cate Blanchett wrote a commentary on Noora Niasari’s feature debut, SHAYDA. The film will be released in New York and Los Angeles on 1 March then in the UK on 8 March. You can read the piece below which was originally published on Rolling Stone.

The director Noora Niasari deeply understands the personal struggles of people who often go unnoticed by the mainstream flow of life. Her first film, the 2017 short Tâm, about a Vietnamese woman trapped in a cataclysmic sexual encounter, is a haunting gut punch.

Noora and I are from different generations and cultures. Yet she lived in the same suburb of Melbourne that I grew up in, and we were both raised by isolated single mothers in predominantly female environments. So the moment I read Shayda – Noora’s first feature script – there was a powerful emotional crossover that made my heart leap.

The work of Iranian film directors, such as Asghar Farhadi and Abbas Kiarostami, have had a huge influence on me, but it always felt like a cultural impossibility for me to have the chance to enter their worlds. To read the powerfully resonant words of a woman Iranian filmmaker on my own doorstep was not only an astonishment, but I felt compelled to help bring Noora’s film to the screen.

Based on Noora’s own childhood experiences, Shayda is set in the 1990s, but chillingly the plights of women like the title character have only intensified and become more pervasive in Iran and elsewhere. I knew that Noora’s story was a culturally emotional one right away, but sadly, I had no idea how urgent it would become.

The plot is deceptively simple: Shayda, an Iranian immigrant in Melbourne, estranged from her husband flees to a local women’s refuge with her young daughter, and attempts to start her life again, making plans to celebrate the Persian new year. Events, however, are ratcheting relentlessly. Ultimately, the story that erupts from this intensely personal and domestic scenario is thrumming with wider cultural resonances.

The situation in Iran, and elsewhere in the world, is still horrifying for women. I knew that Shayda, while set squarely in Iranian diaspora community in Australia, would powerfully resonate such domestic tribulations into that urgent global conversation. In Noora’s deft hands,what we have is a film that is a tender and heartbreakingly vulnerable exploration of a disintegrating family (I kept thinking of Kramer Vs. Kramer as much as Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation). Shayda’s story is one which resonates across cultural divides. Perhaps this is what led the film to win the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival last year.

There are so many domestic moments in Shayda that display deep, personal courage. But, following the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the self-appointed “morality police,” these seemingly small personal moments in the film have taken on a global political dimension.

When Shayda insists on a divorce, cuts her hair or openly defies her husband in a public place, the quiet heroism of this woman speaks directly to the “Women, Life, Freedom” movement, which highlights the terrible plight of women experiencing the dark storm of oppression in Iran. The central role of Shayda, beautifully played by Zar Amir (We wouldn’t have a film without her!) allows the viewer to unsentimentally yet urgently reflect on this plight. When you’re not in direct geographic relationship to the conflicts in a culture that is not your own, you often don’t become fully aware of them until a volcanic eruption happens.

The film is a powerful “prequel” to what we are watching unfold right now. Perhaps what is most demonstratively timely and timeless about Shayda though is that it allows the audience to look back to the 1990s and bear witness to the incremental domestic shifts that, when scrutinized, attest to the way oppression gathers and forms in a society and eventually in some instances culminates in horrific abuses of human rights.

Shayda is a heartwarming, heroic, and ultimately triumphant story. The film is not instructional or preachy. It is not a history lesson. What it does is afford viewers time to reflect; time to position their personal experience into the political context, and inevitably the global predicament.

Source: Rolling Stone