Around the World Starting in Sundance Pt. 2

Narrative features from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival



Shayda is at once a mother/daughter love story and a story of the struggles of the women of Iran. It’s also the best movie I saw at the festival.

Shayda is an Iranian woman living with her young daughter Mona in a women’s shelter in Australia. She and her husband were in Australia studying. Her scholarship was canceled by the regime while he is pursuing a medical degree. After he abuses and rapes her she sought refuge in the shelter and is suing him for divorce and custody of her daughter.

He wants her to go back to Iran with him. She knows that if she goes back and divorces him she will lose custody of Mona and will be scorned for leaving her husband.

The tenderness of the mother/daughter relationship is brilliantly acted by Zar Amir Ebrahimi as Shayda and Selina Zahednia as Mona. Interspersed with the tenderness and joyous scenes of Sayda and Mona is the tension of their encounters with an unpredictable and volatile husband/father.

Not only is this based on a true story, but it is the story of the director Noora Niasari. She was the young Iranian girl whose mother brought her to Australia.

This movie couldn’t be more timely as women in Iran risk their lives demonstrating for their freedom. It is a brilliant movie that deserves to be widely distributed and seen.

(Shayda won the Audience Award in the Sundance World Cinema Dramatic Competition)

Puerto Rico

La Pecara (The Fishbowl)

A somber affair. Noelia has cancer and it has metastasized. She is determined to not be limited by her condition. She is also determined to not be treated.

The movie centers on a visit by Noelia to her mother in Vieques, where she was born. Vieques is today a beautiful resort area, an island just off the Puerto Rican mainland. But its history is as a bomb testing site for the U.S. Navy. So the backdrop to Noelia’s suffering is the search for contamination, for bombs and other remnants of the Navy’s war machine.

La Pecara is magnificently filmed. There are underwater scenes, landscapes and seascapes, brilliant colors and moody greyness. In the background is soft melancholic music and an almost constant barking of dogs and neighing of horses. On the horizon is a hurricane.

A cinematic, not a narrative, masterpiece. It is a picture of pain that is both sad and occasionally cringe worthy. But above all else, it’s a work of art.



Mystical and mysterious. Itto is a young, very pregnant Moroccan woman from humble origins but married into a wealthy family. An unspecified threat has sent her countrymen scurrying to mosques to pray for order.

With her husband away, Itto sets out on a journey that takes her through small villages, bustling towns and stark landscapes. She meets men who cheat her, she meets men who help her. Along the way she is filled with doubts, doubts about her religion, about the very reality before her eyes. From young and innocent, she becomes mature and unsure.

True to the movie title, there are lots of animals. One town seems to have literally gone to the dogs. Sheep prevail in the countryside. Ants are all around. And the birds seem to follow Itto throughout her journey.

Oumaima Barid is brilliant in the lead role. The cinematography creates the mood of wonder and uncertainty. There are a lot of questions. Not too many answers.



Manacruz is a grandma. She lives with her husband Eduardo, aka Chubby. They are caring for their granddaughter while their daughter is away auditioning for a dance recital role. She spends her days in the church where, being a seamstress, she dresses and decorates the statues and figurines of Jesus, Mary, et al.

With a young girl in the house, there’s a tablet, and there’s an internet connection. Clicking some buttons on her own one night Mamacruz gets a dodgy-looking pop up, clicks on it and boom….a screen full of porn. Shocked, Mamacruz shoves the tablet under a pillow. But it doesn’t end there.

Before you know it, our heroine is joining a masturbation therapy group where the leader offers advice like how to use ben-wa balls. And this group of older women start channeling their teenage selves, smoking dope and pouring down shots. Chubby is slow on the take, having snored through most of the first half of the movie, but eventually even he figures out something is a bit off here.

With that description, you might expect a fast-paced laugh out loud kind of movie. This is anything but. It is slow with a score that seems to weigh down the screen.

There are some serious themes at play. Not the least of which is the never too old aspect of an older woman rediscovering her sensuality. There’s the church as a denier of all things sexual. And in Mamacruz’s daughter the theme of how motherhood impacts a woman’ career and dreams.

I didn’t find the movie terribly effective as either comedy or social commentary. At best it’s a curiosity.

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1 Response to Around the World Starting in Sundance Pt. 2

  1. I like the sound of Shayda, and maybe Animalia. Great identifying reviews Ken.

    Liked by 1 person

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