Monday, February 12, 2024

Shayda; “A Separation” in Australia

By José Alberto Hermosillo

AFI FEST FILM REVIEW: “Shayda” is a thoughtful and profoundly moving family drama. It chronicles the journey of an Iranian mother and a daughter going through a painful separation from their abusive husband in Australia in the 1990s.
 
Paraphrasing the title of the Oscar-winning 2011 Iranian film “A Separation” directed by Asghar Farhadi, another story of the separation of Iranians comes to the screen -- “Sayda,” based on the personal experience of first-timer Iranian Australian director Noora Niasari, remarkably delivers a vivid portrayal of an abused Iranian single mother and her daughter roaming in a foreign land.

Director Nooria Niasari, Australia. Photo ny José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023
 
The collaborative effort took six years to come to fruition. Noora’s mother was not only her inspiration but a person who stood up by her side during production. Academy Award-winning actress Cate Blanchett, who worked as an executive producer, was an essential part of the project, said Niasari at a Q&A after the screening of her film during the AFI Fest in Los Angeles in 2023.
 
The Persian-born director Noora Niasari, who grew up in Australia, went back to Iran at the age of nineteen to learn more about her roots and cultural identity and other elements that would help her to enrich the film. The symbolism of Shayda’s clothes, shapes, and colors represents the emotional journey and a transformation, making Shayda’s silhouette become a butterfly, visually speaking. 

In terms of place and time, the film is a powerful analogy of how people lived the Autumn in Australia during the 1990s.

The film strongly suggests Shayda’s darkest moments, including the reference to when she was beaten, raped, and sent out to the street with her six-year-old daughter, Mona. To overcome adversity, she seeks refuge at a women’s shelter where she finds counseling, legal aid, and friends who live in similar circumstances, who taught her how to empower herself to confront her husband and his family.
 
Over the Persian New Year Celebration, Shayda would like to take comfort in the Nowruz rituals that symbolize a new beginning. But real life takes work. Escaping domestic violence and her country’s totalitarian ideology. Sayda needed to recapture her cultural identity by keeping in touch with her Iranian food, poetry, music, dances, traditions, and, above all, with the Iranian people in Australia.
 
In this stressful cat-and-mouse drama, Shayda must be as far as possible from her abusive husband, Hossain (Osamah Sami), but the law does not grant her wishes. The patriarchal Australian system, without knowing that the father wants to take his woman and daughter back to Iran to preserve his misogynist dominance, rules favor the father’s visitations.


Actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023

Staring Teheran-born actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi (“Holy Spider” & “Tatami”) is remarkable as Shayda. She displays a wide variety of emotions, playing a mother who is aware of her daughter’s well-being but who also needs some empathy for herself.

 

Actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi & Selina Zahednia, Photo courtesy of Sony Classics, 2023,

Mona, the little girl, is confident and expressive; young actress Selina Zahednia plays her. She understood acting from the beginning. The mother-and-daughter relationship looked natural in front of the camera due to Selina and Zar Amir’s chemistry. They bond together by practicing their scenes in a child-friendly environment for two months.
 
“Shayda” is a woman-driven story that describes the repercussions of the Australian immigration system and resonates as part of the image of the Great Southern Land we have not seen before.
 
Noora Niasari dedicated her first work to her mom and all the brave women of Iran. She will continue working on her trilogy and just announced that her next project is an adaptation of Mahsa Rahman’s novel “Raya” in North America.

“Sayda” is an affectionate female-driven film with a sense of belonging. This cathartic project reflects the challenges experienced by a single mom during her separation from her abusive husband, moving away from her totalitarian country to find shelter and personal fulfillment for her and her daughter in a new land that represents a new beginning for both women who dream of a better future. 


Director Nooria Niasari & film critic José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023

Actress Zar Amir Ebrahimi & film critic José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023

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