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Screenplay by Ben Sharrock

Directed by Ben Sharrock

Review by Danielle Papamichael 


Ben Sharrocks 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 priorityas 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 islands bleak, sometimes beautiful landscapes. Limbo is a confident film, slow and controlled in its pacing. One moment youre looking out onto the tide and the next theres a woman with a dolphins 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 grandfathers oud around with him everywhere but refuses to play, maybe as a test of loyalty or because hes emotionally and physically stuck. Whats really refreshing about Limbo is that it focuses on the beauty of Syria, Omars family garden, his mums 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-Masrys 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 homewhich 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 isnt 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 youre laughing and the next youre crying. Its an experience that will stay with you for a long time after the credits roll.