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Reform Magazine | July 13, 2024

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Reviews July/August 2024 - Reform Magazine

Reviews July/August 2024

Muslim limbo

Shayda
Directed by Noora Niasari
Certificate 15, 117 minutes
Released 19 July

An Iranian woman, Shayda (Zar Amir Ebrahimi from Holy Spider), is staying with her young daughter Mona (Selina Zahednia) in a woman’s refuge house in Brisbane run by Joyce (Leah Purcell). Shayda’s husband Hossain (Osamah Sami) came to Australia with her before they separated and has been granted visiting rights for Mona. Even though Hossain talks of taking Mona on a plane back to Iran, if Shayda wants full custody Joyce recommends she allows Hossain the allotted time alone with his daughter in the local shopping mall.

Outside of these handovers, Shayda rarely leaves the women’s refuge – she’s terrified of being recognised by people she knows. As if the Australian legal system and her difficult circumstances weren’t enough, it sometimes seems as if Islamic/Iranian culture is against Shayda too. Her mum phones her from Iran, repeatedly asking if there’s a chance Shayda and her ex could get back together.

Through her more sympathetic friend Elly (Rina Mousavi), Shayda meets and is attracted to Elly’s nephew, Farhad (Mojean Aria). Farhad knows nothing of Shayda’s situation, so when he is romancing her with Iranian poetry in the moonlight at Elly’s Nowruz (Persian New Year) party and Hossein appears and beats him up, it comes as something of a shock.

We see other women of various ethnicities at the shelter, but this is really Shayda’s story and the film is carried by Ebrahimi’s alternately confident and fearful performance, with strong support from Zahednia as her little girl. Although it’s an Australian picture, much of the dialogue is in Farsi and the film conveys a strong sense of those elements of Muslim/Iranian culture that this ethnic group brings with them from their homeland when they settle abroad.

It may be pertinent that this film is made by a woman and that Cate Blanchett is one of the executive producers. It’s very much about women’s (and girls’) lives and their betterment of themselves, with the men in the narrative showing a desire to cling to the past and revert to where things were before, preventing the women from moving on.

Jeremy Clarke is a film critic. His website is jeremycprocessing.com

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This is an extract from an article published in the July/August 2024 edition of Reform

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