Sundance 2023: ‘Shayda’ Review
The following is part of Full Circle Cinema’s coverage of Sundance 2023.
Shayda is a beautiful story about an Iranian woman named Shayda (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) as she tries to rebuild her life in a women’s shelter. She arrives with her daughter Mona (Selina Zahednia) and tries to get them to their new normal. With Nowruz – the Persian New Year – coming, it gives her the best-case scenario for a new start with Mona. However, when her future ex-husband gets visitation rights, there’s a wrench thrown into the new freedoms Shayda is experiencing.
Noora Niasari pulls double duty for Shayda as director and writer and pulls it off brilliantly. The script is clean and absolutely breathtaking in how it tells the story. The story opens you up to seeing women starting over and having to deal with stalkers and abuse. It’s a story that one must tell delicately, but in a way that still attracts a viewer. Fortunately, Niasari captures that by adding some fun to what would otherwise be a bleak, serious film. Sure, there’s predictability involved, but at its heart, it’s a gift of new beginnings, filled with resiliency, and it’s a powerful story to bring to screens.
For Shayda, my biggest dislikes for the film are the aspect ratio and the filter. Both allow for the film to feel more like a home movie versus a fictional story. Despite that benefit, it detracts from the story at some points. Particularly in the dark scenes, the details of the faces get lost. Some real moments where Shayda has to deal with anxiety in finding freedom, as well as bonding moments between her and Mona in the dead of night. Otherwise, the cinematography really helps maintain a focus on growth and surviving trauma. The costuming and makeup are thoroughly impressive and add to the story of a haunted woman.
Ebrahimi and Zahednia truly have great chemistry as a mother-daughter pair. Their personalities mesh so well, and the dialogue works well between the two. Ebrahimi captures the exhaustion and fear of an abused woman while keeping a little bit of hope for protecting her daughter. Most of the film is in Farsi. However, the addition of some English lines just continues to add to the story of their transition from Iran to Australia. The characterization of both is really solid, and their journey is perfectly mapped out.
Overall, Shayda‘s a beautiful story about overcoming your past and capturing new beginnings. This is based on Niasari’s own upbringing and is still sadly entirely imaginable as a fact in today’s world. Ebrahimi herself has faced the wrath of Iranian politics due to a sex tape released in 2008, and it’s their real-world stories that allow this film to be even more powerful. The details from their own personal experiences are evident throughout the film, and it’s what makes me love it all the more. – Katie Rentschler
Shayda does not currently have a U.S. release date.