“Warsha,” by Dania Bdeir, starts in squalor: a Syrian migrant laborer, living with several other men, leaves the crowded room where they sleep and goes into the bathroom. He looks at a photo of a glamorous young girl, and then heads to his job at a Beirut construction site. For several minutes, you wonder: Where is this movie going? Should I give up?
Then he’s asked to go up on a crane, and “Warsha” suddenly explodes with life and passion, doing everything a film can do in an astonishing 16 minutes. I hope this description doesn’t overhype the film — I don’t think it does — because “Warsha” is best seen with no expectations whatsoever. That’s how I saw it for the first time — as part of a documentary block at the Provincetown Film Festival in June. Its visuals gripped my imagination for several months, but I worried I might never find the film again. That changed when I had the honor of being a judge at the Indie Street Film Festival in Red Bank, New Jersey, and “Warsha” turned out to be the very last of the more than a dozen short films in contention for short film honors. It won.
The film, which stars the Beirut-based singer Khansa, premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, where it earned the Short Film Jury Award for International Fiction. The problem with these kinds of achievements is that many people never get to see the winning films without making the effort to attend a festival. The Criterion Channel recognition finally brings “Warsha” to the masses — or at least the masses of Criterion subscribers.
You should stop reading now if you want to go into “Warsha” completely unspoiled. And I promise not to reveal the stunning surprise, or how it plays out. But I will say — last chance to bail out — that it’s one of the first indie shorts to make stunning use of the Volume LED technology seen in shows like The Mandalorian, aided by Unreal Engine software. The technology, which Bdeir describes here, allows filmmakers to recreate sweeping, interactive backgrounds on a soundstage with more detail than has ever been available before. “Warsha” should be seen on a massive, massive screen. But even if your only opportunity is on your TV, you shouldn’t miss it. Prepare for your heart to soar.
Main image: Khansa in “Warsha,” directed by Dania Bdeir.