‘Shayda’, a moving, if muted immigrant drama set in Australian suburbia

Mother love: Zar Amir-Ebrahimi and Selina Zahednia in ‘Shayda’.

SHAYDA **1/2 (117 minutes) M
There are many moments of high emotion in Shayda, the feature debut from the obviously talented Noori Niasari about an Iranian mother seeking safety for herself and her daughter in a secret suburban shelter house.

Set in 1995, Shayda (Zar Amir-Ebrahimi) is living in fear of her strict, abusive husband Hossain (Osamah Sami) who, despite his appalling behaviour, is granted access to their daughter Mona (Selina Zahednia).

In unfurling her experience-based story about a woman seeking freedom and agency in a new country, Niasari elicits a strong central performance from Amir-Ebrahimi, with Leah Purcell in hefty support as Joyce, the safehouse supervisor.

There are pungent points of anxiety as Shayda fears for Mona, yet the drama, shot in verite-style in the square frame academy format, simmers rather than boils. The story does meander, allowing the focus to drift a little too often.

As laudable a film as Shadya is for bravely addressing some important themes about women in crisis and cultural repression, it is made with a distinct arthouse mindset that seems careful not to dial up the more incendiary elements of its narrative.

Nothing amiss with that, of course, but the muted dramatic style coupled with the usual lack of marketing will likely see Shayda play to a much smaller audience than it deserves.