Sundance Film Festival 2022 Review: Warsha [Short] ★★★★

Canadian-Lebanese writer and director Dania Bdeir presents the striking Warsha at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The short examines the sense of freedom gained by Mohammad, a Syrian migrant (male Lebanese belly dancer Khansa) as he volunteers to cover a shift in one of Beirut’s most dangerous cranes.

Bdeir’s narrative opens exploring our protagonist’s living arrangements in overpopulated lodgings where he lives with numerous other migrants and co-workers. Stained walls, shaky door locks and multitudes of people packed in rooms prove quite an challenging environment to reside in, let alone express oneself fully. An early scene showcasing Khansa’s Mohammad’s attempt to view a picture of a dazzlingly elegant woman adorned in a striking red dress sees his flatmates banging on the door, shattering his one attempt at peace and isolation.

Bdeir crafts a sense of clattering noise and hyper-masculine dominance of Mohammad’s environment from the loudness of his colleagues on his busy commute to the various powerful sounds of the construction site. His announcement that he will take a role atop the city’s most dangerous crane (which has seen the previous six operators meet their demise) provokes shock and ominous concern. The muted and somewhat reserved Mohammad dutifully begins his ascent across makeshift walkways and up shaking ladders to take his seat above the city skyline. Bdeir’s direction and cinematography from Shadi Chaaban capture this strikingly intense feat depicting the slow climb to the crane in a dizzyingly tense fashion as the device shakes in the wind.

Birds eye shots, drone camerawork and staggeringly impressive sound design capture the magnitude of Mohammad’s task whilst showcasing the picturesque beauty of the city. This beauty is also channelled into Khansa’s defiant performance which flips into fifth gear as Mohammad finds the quiet, solitude to freely express himself atop the skyline. Bringing his treasured photo of the red dressed diva out of his pocket and blasting one of her songs, Mohammad bursts into a vibrant passionate lip-sync packed with emulating mannerisms and powerful gesture.

Utilising HDR LED Walls and cutting-edge Unreal Engine Technologies, Warsha depicts Mohammad transported in his performance – delivering a staggeringly powerful turn dressed in crimson red flowing robes, performing on a swing made of clinking chains against the poignant city sunset. The fusion of Khansa’s powerful movement, the dramatic musical cues and otherworldly cinematography transport us to a magical plain where freedom of expression is the force of life.

Isolation is a liberating force in the magical Warsha which showcase both Dania Bdeir and Khansa as staggering talents in their respective fields.

Warsha plays at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Find details here.