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Mother-daughter bond carries poignant ‘Shayda’

James Verniere – Boston Herald (TNS)

Australia’s selection for best international feature film (it was not nominated), “Shayda” boasts unusually marvelous mother-daughter performances by its lead Zar Amir Ebrahimi of the acclaimed 2022 thriller “Holy Spider” and child actor Selina Zahednia. Ebrahimi plays Shayda, an Iranian mother in Melbourne, Australia, living in a women’s shelter with her frightened and stressed-out young daughter Mona (Zahednia) under very difficult circumstances. The shelter is full of other women and in some cases their children as well. Not everyone behaves well. One of them has dubbed Shayda the “Persian princess.” Shayda is absolutely terrified that her hopefully soon-to-be ex-husband Hossein (Osamah Sami) is going to find out where she and their daughter are from one of their mutual acquaintances in the small, tight-knit, Australian Iranian community.

Written and directed by Noora Niasari based on her childhood experiences, the film is set in 1995. Some of its content revolves around the Iranian-Zoroastrian New Year holiday known as Nowruz which is celebrated at the spring equinox. One of the film’s ironies is that Shayda and Mona must celebrate Nowruz in the fall because they are in the Southern Hemisphere. It is only one of the many dislocations they experience as Iranians stranded by circumstance Down Under.

Shayda had to give up her medical school studies when her scholarship was canceled by “regime people” after it was learned that she was seeking a divorce. Her husband was also in Australia to study. With the help of Joyce (Leah Purcell, “The Legend of Molly Johnson”), an Australian woman assigned to her case, Shayda works to accumulate evidence of her husband’s abuse to present in the courtroom.

At the same time, Shayda has been ordered to allow her husband to visit with Mona on Saturday afternoons. Living in another country in strenuous conditions has taken a toll on Mona. Her mother tries to do everything she can to keep Mona occupied and happy, singing songs and dancing with her and maintaining Nowruz rituals such as growing grass from seed, displaying symbolic coins and lighting candles.

In an Iranian market, where she is recognized, Shayda buys Mona a goldfish that the little girl dubs Simba after a character in “The Lion King,” a film that she desperately wants to see. During a recording session concerning her court case, we learn that Hossein raped Shayda in an effort to get her pregnant again because she would not have been able to separate from him.

In one scene, Hossein beats the stuffing out of a young man (Mojean Aria) courting Shayda at a Nowruz party. On one of his “visits,” Hossein makes Mona accompany him as he follows Shayda to see if she has any new male friends.

But, even with a somewhat botched ending, the chemistry between Ebrahimi and Zahednia, much of it thanks to Ebrahimi’s efforts and skills, is impossible to resist.

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‘SHAYDA’

(In English and Farsi with English subtitles)

Grade: B

MPA rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving domestic abuse, some violence and language)

Running time: 1:57

How to watch: Now in theaters

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