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  • Colin Fraser


FOUR STARS An Iranian woman flees an abusive relationship and takes her daughter to a woman's shelter in Melbourne.


Starring Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Leah Purcell

This heartfelt drama is, without question, one of the finest Australian films in years. Written and directed by Nora Niasari, her powerful debut resonates with a calm, inner strength despite the frightening circumstances a young mother finds herself in.

The Iranian New Year is approaching, a time of renewal and rebirth, but for Shayda it’s also a time of great uncertainty. A new migrant, she’s keen to make Australia home but her abusive husband Hossein is determined his family will return to Iran. Fearful of a restrictive future in her homeland, further abuse in her new home and terrified he’ll use their six year old daughter as leverage, Shayda seeks refuge in a women’s shelter. However bureaucracy is not on her side and authorities grant Hossein unsupervised access to his daughter, forcing Shayda to find ways to keep them safe and free from her husband’s plans.

Niasari’s deeply personal film (much of it echoes her own lived experience) simply rings with truth, a rare and very welcome quality in contemporary drama. She’s aided by exceptional performances from the entire cast led by the exceptional Zar Amir Ebrahimi as Shayda, Selina Zahednia as her daughter and the always compelling Leah Purcell as the shelter’s warden Joyce. Purcell fills the role with a warm, caring, no-nonsense attitude that is always completely credible. Were more of us like Joyce, what a country this would be.

Shot with natural light in a claustrophobic 4:3 frame, SHAYDA’s thoughtful production supports the narrative arc at every turn. As hope ebbs and flows, so too does the cinematography, embracing the audience to keep us caught up in the highs and lows of an all too familiar story of cultural and personal conflict. That we're given a very local perspective makes it even more powerful.

SHAYDA has collected a slew of nominations and awards including a win at Sundance and selection for next year’s Oscars (Best International Film). It’s rarified and utterly deserved company it keeps. Make sure you’re in the audience.



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