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Shayda movie review & film summary (2024)

While Shayda is terrified of discovery, the circumstances of her hiding are no less comfortable. The fear of Hossein’s physical violence is matched with an alternative emotional violence: oppressive paranoia, a duo of racist housemates, and the threat of being revealed by the more traditional members of Melbourne’s Iranian community. Throughout “Shayda” is a duology of longing for liberation: escaping an abusive home as well as combating internalized shame birthed by traditional values, principles that direct her to accept Hossein’s abuse, because as his wife, it is her duty to serve him. Even as her mother laments on the phone, “at least he’s a good father.” 

The story of “Shayda” is moving, though ordinary. The spectrum of emotion is captured, from tension to joy to despair, but the way the film moves through them is plain at best and bland at worst. The film’s predictable structure and story doesn’t hook you into its pathos, instead it’s the performances from Ebrahimi and Zahednia. They have wonderful chemistry as mother and daughter, and at times Zahednia’s performance is so palpably genuine that it thrusts Shayda’s character into the background of a scene. But Ebrahimi’s restraint is touching. As Shayda fears being known, we feel the consequential aloof disposition from the other side of the screen, though at times we beg for the veil to lift.  

Both actresses ace what is expected of them, working off Niasari’s script, which is strongest in moments of expressive silence. The dialogue is often on the nose, always making its point known, rather than entrusting the audience to arrive at the conclusion empathetically. 

Dance is an element that Niasari excellently includes to convey moments of relief and hope. In a dark bedroom at night, Shayda pleads for a way to ease Mona’s tension. In an overcrowded club, she pleads for her own sigh-ful moment in a life of bated breaths. And at an overjoyed celebration for Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, she is awash with yellows and reds and embracing a feeling of freedom. These pockets of release introduce a heartfelt kinetic splash into the pond of the rest of the film’s anxiously stagnant waters. It breaks up the pacing with hope.

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