Director: Ben Sharrock
Runtime: 104 minutes
Cast: Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Ola Orebiyi, Kwabena Ansah
Synopsis: An offbeat observation of the refugee experience. On a fictional remote Scottish island, a group of new arrivals await the results of their asylum claims. Among them is Omar, a young Syrian musician burdened by the weight of his grandfather’s oud, which he has carried all the way from his homeland.
Award-winning Scottish writer/director Ben Sharrock is known for his unique sense of cinematic style and voice. His debut feature film, Pikadero (2015) premiered at San Sebastian International Film Festival in 2015, and was recognised by the Spanish Film Academy as an “outstanding contribution to independent Spanish cinema”.
Limbo is an industry backed and English language debut for Ben, supported by Film4, BFI and Screen Scotland.
Recently nominated for two BAFTA® awards for Best British Film and Best Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer, Limbo is a wry and poignant observation of the refugee experience, set on a fictional remote Scottish island where a group of new arrivals await the results of their asylum claims. It centres on Omar [Amir El-Masry], a young Syrian musician who is burdened by his grandfather’s oud, which he has carried all the way from his homeland.
Reflecting the complexity of the movement of people across borders has been a long-held passion for director and writer Ben Sharrock, who spent time working for an NGO in refugee camps in southern Algeria and living in Damascus in 2009 shortly before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. There, he formed a network of friends whose personal stories inspired the film.
Ben Sharrock’s critically adored, touching, absurd and visually striking deadpan comedy-drama is a wry, funny and poignant cross-cultural satire that subtly sews together the hardship and hope of the refugee experience, shining a light on the hearts and lives of those at the centre of a crisis that is mostly only experienced through the headlines.
Set on a fictional remote Scottish island, Limbo tells the story of a group of new arrivals awaiting the results of their asylum claims. It centres on Omar (played by rising star Amir El-Masry), a young Syrian musician who, thousands of miles from home, finds himself trapped by guilt, regret and the grief that he carries for the loss of his former identity. Separated from his family and hampered by a plaster cast on his arm, Omar wanders the epic landscapes searching for answers to a complex past and daunting future.
But while he is stuck there, he isn’t alone. There is: Farhad (Vikash Bhai), from Afghanistan who has come to the UK because he is a Freddie Mercury superfan; there is Abedi (Kwabena Ansah) and Wasef (Ola Orebiyi), brothers from Nigeria who are always quarrelling about Friends and Wasef’s dream of playing football for Chelsea.
In between brief long-distance conversations with his parents and passing interactions with oddball locals, Omar and his new flatmates attend outrageously misjudged ‘cultural awareness’ classes – led by Helga [Sidse Babett Knudsen], binge Friends boxsets, and debate attending the local open mic night, all the while waiting for the delivery of letters that will ultimately determine their future.
Omar – intelligently and sensitively played by rising star, Amir El-Masry – has left Syria with his family. But his mum and dad are still in Turkey, while Omar has taken the gamble on moving onward to try for residency in the UK. Meanwhile his brother has gone back to Syria – or never left in the first place – to fight Assad.
Omar is the emotional focus of the film and El-Masry’s superb performance – especially in the heart-rending conversations he has with his mother over the phone, where she asks if he has changed his bed linen and he asks for detailed recipes in a forlorn attempt to eat in the same way he ate at home. He treasures the design of his oud, the front of which is a stylised representation of their garden in Damascus. There is an almost unbearably sad scene in which he points all this out to Farhad.
Brilliant cinematography by Nick Cooke echoes the tonal and mood changes and the aspect ratio shifts to reflect the stunning, natural Hebridean scenery
The decision for Limbo to focus exclusively on the male refugee experience was a very deliberate one for Ben Sharrock who says: “It’s the single male refugee that is demonised the most, seen as the big threat to society in the right-wing media.
“It was difficult to approach such a complex and multi-faceted subject matter because you always feel in danger of not being able to do justice to the subject and as such, for me, it wasn’t about making a film about ‘The Refugee Crisis’ it was about making a film about a young man’s identity and him grieving for the loss of identity.
“This is something that is universally relatable because throughout life, we can all lose parts of us that form our sense of identity, no matter what your background is.”
Limbo is an unforgettable, wry and poignant film which everyone can relate to, about finding your inner love and passion in times of personal trial and tribulation.
In cinemas and streaming on demand.
Images courtesy of MUBI