A ‘Black Visual Intonation’, in which ‘things’ are put ‘in affective proximity to one another’.
Screenplay by Ben Sharrock
Directed by Ben Sharrock
Review by Danielle Papamichael
Ben Sharrock’s offbeat drama-comedy Limbo is poignant, heart-wrenching, witty and uncomfortably funny. Set on a fictional remote Scottish island (and filmed on the Uists) with vicious weather conditions, we follow an all-male (‘low priority’ as one of the characters put it) group of residents who are awaiting the results of their asylum claims. The film focuses on the journey of Omar (Amir El-Masry), a young Syrian musician, as he mourns his old identity and comes to terms with his new life. Sharrock sets up his bold deadpan style right away, which is complemented by vast wide-shots of the island’s bleak, sometimes beautiful landscapes. Limbo is a confident film, slow and controlled in its pacing. One moment you’re looking out onto the tide and the next there’s a woman with a dolphin’s head handing out flyers.
Amir El-Masry is sensational in this role: he speaks volumes for Omar with his expressions alone. Limbo showcases the complexities of the asylum process by focusing on the emotional turmoil the characters face whilst being stranded on the island. They’re forced to overcome the cherished memories of their previous lives. Throughout, Omar uses the only pay-phone available to speak to his mum. Often he feels more guilt-ridden and worried after the phone calls, hundreds of miles away from his family and terrified about losing his Syrian identity. He repeatedly watches a video clip showing him about to play his oud back home at a packed out concert, filmed by his family cheering in the audience. Now Omar carries his grandfather’s oud around with him everywhere but refuses to play, maybe as a test of loyalty or because he’s emotionally and physically stuck. What’s really refreshing about Limbo is that it focuses on the beauty of Syria, Omar’s family garden, his mum’s amazing cooking and their fruitful apricot tree. All of these memories contrast with the stark emptiness of the island, emphasising why Omar is in such conflict with himself and his situation.
El-Masry’s performance is complemented by Farhad (Vikash Bhai), a Freddie Mercury mega-fan, rocking a similar moustache, Abedi (Kwabena Ansah) and Wasef (Ola Orebiyi). The four of them live together in an allocated ‘home’ which is stripped back and unloved. The days feel repetitive, full of foreboding as hope dwindles between them. Forbidden to work, they spend most of their time bickering over old video-tapes of Friends or attending outrageously ignorant cultural-awareness classes. Limbo isn’t a film about asylum seekers’ roles within western society nor does it have a western saviour at its core. It avoids all notions of dehumanisation or pity and solely focuses on these courageously admirable characters at the centre, who you connect to and care for.
Limbo is an important and timely film: one moment you’re laughing and the next you’re crying. It’s an experience that will stay with you for a long time after the credits roll.