‘Shayda’ Review: Powerful Debut Feature Shines a Timely Light on an Iranian Woman’s Resilient Spirit

In resiliently fighting for their human rights and dignity, Iranian women were deservedly named TIME magazine’s Heroes of the Year in 2022. Their fierce uprising erupted last fall, after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was arrested by the morality police for not fully complying with the government’s antiquated dress code, and died three days later in police custody. Set in the ’90s in an Australian city, writer-director Noora Niasari’s quietly powerful “Shayda” doesn’t, on the surface, have a direct connection to these recent events. But one can’t help but detect the same strength and heroic spirit in the film’s eponymous protagonist, a young Iranian woman who demands a free life on her own terms, away from the shadow of her abusive husband, and the patriarchal norms and codes of conduct that suffocate her existence.

If “Shayda” (with Cate Blanchett among its executive producers) skews too predictable at times and reaches an ending you can spot from the first act, that’s because the male abuser’s playbook is often predictable too. In that regard, we know the likes of Shayda’s husband both in real life and across various American and international films, from “I, Tonya” to “Herself” to “Custody.” We’re acquainted with the patterns in which these men behave, intimidate, game the system and somehow manage to convince the authorities that they are changed and, therefore, deserve a new chance. Not unlike some of the aforementioned titles, “Shayda” shows what happens when that new chance