Watch The Trailer
Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Noora Niasari's confident personal debut Shayda won the 2023 Sundance Audience Award for World Dramatic Cinema. Reportedly based on the filmmaker's own experience, this drama surges with truth, thanks in no small part to a stunning performance from Zar Amir Ebrahimi, winner of Best Actress at Cannes for Holy Spider. Ebrahimi plays a mother hiding out in a woman's shelter in Australia, alternately processing the trauma of her past and trying to carve out a new future for her daughter. With her abusive husband in the narrative mix, Shayda hums with inevitable dread. It's a tug-of-war between hope and fear that gives Ebrahimi the platform to carve out a completely three-dimensional character. We care for Shayda and her daughter and, by extension, the thousands of women in the tragically same position in the world.
Shayda unfolds in 1995 and features its title character, played by Ebrahimi, and her daughter Mona (Selina Zahednia) in almost every scene. Shayda moved to Australia with Mona and her husband Hossein (Osamah Sami), but his daily abuse, including rape, has become unbearable, forcing her into a shelter with an undisclosed location—the fear that someone will discover where Shayda and Mona live gives Niasari's film the momentum of a thriller, enhanced by a constrained aspect ratio that makes us feel as trapped as they are. In a sense, even as these characters are seeking freedom, they're trapping themselves in a life that makes any sort of mistake a potentially deadly one. It doesn't help that Shayda is forced to let Hossein see his daughter by the courts. What if Mona drops a detail about their location? It could put not only them in jeopardy but the other women staying there.
Ebrahimi gives a stunning performance, one that balances both palpable fear and stunning courage. Seeing Shayda try to stay a part of the Iranian community in Australia—while rejecting the old-fashioned beliefs that insist she returns to her husband—makes the character feel completely well-rounded, believable, and progressive at the same time. We believe in both her fear and her hope in equal measure. They can sometimes exist in the same space.