The Movie Waffler New Release Review - SHAYDA | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - SHAYDA

Shayda review
An Iranian refugee's new life in Australia is threatened by the appearance of her estranged husband.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Noora Niasari

Starring: Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Osamah Sami, Leah Purcell, Jillian Nguyen, Mojean Aria, Selina Zahednia, Rina Mousavi

Shayda poster

Marriage vows are fucking wild. Even before the ceremony and all attendant verbiage, the bride is "given away" by a patriarch: "given away," not "accompanied down the aisle," not even "earned." "Given away!" Then it gets worse. You must promise, by decree, to stick with someone through "better or worse" (i.e., you're going to have to suck it up if it turns out theyre a bit of a prick); invoking the name of a god you probably don't believe in, to enact a one-size-dooms-all template laid out by 16th century royalists. Come off it. You'll be allowing yourself to be "carried" across a "threshold" next. I jest (sort of), as I am sure that there are people for whom this pantomime is a heartfelt means of commitment, of qualifying their connection, and good luck to them. But for certain others this archaic routine is a legitimised opportunity to exert tenure and absolute control over someone else.

Shayda review

In Noora Niasari's tense and fully drawn character drama Shayda, this sinister dynamic is observed. The first scene opens upon Shayda (Zar Amir Ebrahimi) and six-year-old daughter Mona (Selina Zahednia) arriving from Iran to an Australian airport with all the anxious urgency of an illegal drug run. Collected by the justifiably paranoid administrator of a woman's shelter, Joyce (Leah Purcell), the duo have landed in Melbourne to escape Shayda's abusive husband. The mise-en-scene perpetuates the disquieted tone: all shaking-hand held frames, and E.T. angles (you know, from the vantage of the kid: Shayda is inspired by Niasari's own childhood experiences). I couldn't find data for the 1995 era Shayda is set in, but over the last year women's shelters in Queensland had reached capacity, the biggest threat to the intake being rejected men uncovering the whereabouts of what they feel belongs to them.

Insane for a person to believe that they own somebody else, that that person is theirs to rape, abuse and possess.  I say a person, but let's face it, in most cases of stalking and violent retribution we're talking male on female violence, which in certain cultures is codified by the partisan union of marriage. "Wait until I get you back to Iran," Hossein (Osamah Sami) threatens when he inevitably tracks Shayda down, and is by law granted subsequent visitation rights to Mona. Shrewdly, Niasari keeps Shayda's estranged husband off screen for the early part of the film, and we build up an image of a boorish monster, a stereotypical bully. When we do meet him, he is the picture of ostensible respectability: well groomed, educated, studying to be a doctor. Whatever the archetype of an abusive spouse is (an absurd notion), Hossein doesn't fit it, which perhaps explains the largesse he is afforded by the authorities regarding his proximity to Shayda.

Shayda review

Most of Shayda's narrative, however, concerns the recreation of its title character's circumscribed world; the constant looking over the shoulder, the sensation of exposure. The film is restless and gets under the skin. Hinging on the dignity of Ebrahimi, we see her not only attempt to escape a nightmare world but endeavour to fit into a new one, too; a context which does not necessarily welcome her. Certain women in the shelter, who are all undergoing their own different shades of enforced horror, "other" Shayda based on her ethnicity, a character dynamic which rang poignantly true: the abused turning abuser in a destructive attempt to claw back status and control. Consolidating the despair is Niasari's presentation of Hossein's violence, which is clumsy but forceful, and only empowered by Shayda's relative physical weakness.

Shayda review

In her first feature, Niasari displays gritty confidence in this rich material, allowing the narrative to unfold at an insidious, compelling pace. Most welcome is the film's central motif of dancing, and, set in the '90s, often to the chart hits of the era: The Key, The Secret and Rozalla - yes please. Shayda and the others dance in the same way that Dua Lipa did in the Glastonbury footage when the fella from Tame Impala came on stage: loose, unchoreographed, and with absolute innocent joy. Dancing is sovereignty over one's self, a reclamation of the body and soul which is vitally expressed here. Yet, in its final scenes, Shayda has the courage of its convictions and ends in a way we might not expect: until death do us part, indeed.

Shayda is in UK/ROI cinemas from July 19th.

2024 movie reviews