‘Shayda’ Review: An Intimate and Sturdy Character Study

Kenny Miles reviews Shayda, Noora Niasari's assured directional debut that is filled with intimate and contemplative moments.

Executive produced by Cate Blanchett and Australia’s submission in the Best International Feature Film category at the 96th Academy Awards, Noora Niasari’s “Shayda” finally opens in theaters this month. Niasari’s childhood memories inspire the poignant drama, which follows an Iranian immigrant woman in Australia named Shayda (Zar Amir Ebrahimi), who raises her young daughter Mona (a delicate Selina Zahednia). They both live in a women’s shelter, and Shayda is trying to divorce her abusive creep of a husband.

The gentle moments between Shayda and Mona work well together (which is not always the case with child actors), contrasting the movie’s overall tone. The lighting is gloomy for many scenes, and the thematic elements are just as sad. Her listening to a phone call was grim. Their circumstances are dire, and viewers hope for the best despite the overwhelming sadness. Zar Amir Ebrahimi, who was terrific in “Holy Spider,” is just as effective as a woman trapped in burdensome circumstances.

A tender exploration of the aftermath of domestic abuse, the hindrance of oppression patriarchy is too much to bear for Shayda. We witness the abusive ex is eerie, suddenly showing up like a true villain in little ways and gaslights both the ex-lover and his child in different ways. I don’t want to mislabel this as a thriller, but “Shayda” is full of tension and the dread of uncertainty. The vulnerable, emotionally wrought moments, like when she listens to a recorded message, are heartbreaking.

See Also: ‘Femme’ Review: An Empathic Look at a Tragically Complex Situation

One of my favorite scenes is when Shayda experiences freedom in the dance club, which shows that she can’t enjoy her life unburdened by her ex’s presence. You can imagine the possibilities of a renewed life, and Shayda gets a taste of it. There is a sense of self-discovery and learning new ways of living like a liberated Western woman.

A SAG Outstanding Directing: First-time feature Film nominee (my favorite award during Oscar season), Noora Niasari’s assured directional debut is filled with contemplative moments. The gentle pacing and silent, long takes allow viewers to absorb the setting, and the mood feels like a supporting character lingering over the whole movie, like a spiritual presence. It is authentic to the culture and effectively conveys the conflicting cultural struggles of tradition and freedom.

Shayda is now playing in select theaters nationwide.

Written by
Kenny admired film criticism as a child when his mother wrote a positive review of Home Alone in his small town Arkansas newspaper and defended it against angry Letters to the Editor. Kenny Miles loves to talk about movies especially the cultural impact of a film, if something is overlooked by Hollywood, or whatever business trend has captured the Entertainment Industry’s attention, specialty releases, an auteur director, a unique premise, branding, and THE much infamous "awards season." Kenny currently lives in Denver, Colorado and is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society critics group. When he isn’t writing, Kenny channels his passion working as an events marketing coordinator. He spends many Friday nights exit polling for CinemaScore (and his opinions are his own).

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