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Sundance 2023 Review: Shayda – “The reason to watch is the subtle performance of Zar Amir-Ebrahimi”

Seeking refuge and a divorce from her physically abusive husband, Shayda heads to a woman’s shelter with her six-year-old daughter Mona.

A social worker takes an Iranian woman and her daughter around an airport in Australia so that the latter knows what to do if her father attempts an abduction and heads back to Iran; temporary refuge for mother and child is found in a woman’s shelter with each occupant having their own story to be told.  The husband is granted shared custody of the daughter and things slowly begin to unravel.

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There is no neat solution to what unfolds as messiness prevails in real life.  First-time feature director Noora Niasari explores the different relationships and stories at the woman’s shelter which is great for character development but the narrative feels drawn out at times.  The handheld camerawork certainly makes it feel like a documentary and in the moment, however, the shaking motion is distracting at times. The most dramatic scene unfolds when verifying a legal statement that details an assault and the translator suggests the addition of a particular word as supposed to the actual one that is shown.

The real reason to watch is the subtle performance of Zar Amir-Ebrahimi that never feels unauthentic despite the range of circumstances that the character of Shayda encounters; she is an extremely versatile actress whether depicting a journalist trying to capture a serial killer in Holy Spider or the title character fearing for her life and the future of her daughter at the hands of a volatile spouse.  Selina Zahednia has a difficult role to play as the adolescent Mona and excels in a particular sequence where she has a panic attack and runs away when realizing that her father is secretly taking pictures of her mother.

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival takes place January 19–29, 2023, in person and online, and for more infomration visit sundance.org.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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