Review: Limbo (GFF)

By Carlos Zepeda

Limbo follows the emotional journey of a Syrian refugee in Scotland, as he both passes the time with his friends and overcomes a crisis of identity.

Limbo is a film that will touch your heart on multiple occasions. The second film from Scottish director Ben Sharrock tells the story of asylum seekers and refugees living on a northern Scotland island, waiting for a decision on their individual applications. The storytelling of Limbo is deeply humanised. The film succeeds in delivering an intimate tone with natural pacing around the delicate topic of refugee migration in Europe.

From the start, the movie opens with an entertaining dramatization of the expected behaviours from refugees when welcomed into their new realities. As asylum seekers, they don’t have the opportunity to participate in the economy until they have an approved residence. Omar (Amir El-Masry) and the other refugees have no alternative option but to wait under basic housing and subsistence. It is easy to relate to Omar and his fellow housemates as each of them share an amusing reference to Western popular culture. For instance, Farhad (Vikash Bhai) is a Freddie Mercury fan from Afghanistan; Abedi (Kwabena Ansah) and Wasef (Ola Orebiyi), a Ghanaian and Nigerian respectively, convincingly pass as brothers with their constant quarrelling over Friends episodes or Chelsea Football Club.

Omar came to the north of the United Kingdom in pursuit of a more optimistic life. The oud instrument – picture a pear-shaped guitar – that he carries around everywhere symbolises his past as a prominent musician in Damascus. His resistance to playing the oud (even after the removal of the wrist cast that he sports at the start of the film) is a creative block underscored by emotional trauma. His parents remain a phone call away in Turkey, while his brother stayed in Syria to fight the Assad regime. Recipes and songs shared with his mother, selfless acts with the locals, and a conversation with his brother are just some of the experiences that Omar undergoes to overcome his identity crisis in a foreign country. This musician is not dead, he is reawakened.

Omar is the heart of this film. It is easy to relate to him as a human locked down in the north of Scotland, far from his family and with a limited group of friends to connect with. Scotland additionally represents an aesthetically pleasing backdrop for the development of his story. The panoramic and landscape shots provide a view of unexpected Scottish scenery. At times, Sharrock’s directing echoes Wes Anderson’s signature symmetrical style. His shots are heightened by the remarkable selection of music by Hutch Demouilpied. This film is brilliantly composed and executed; it deserves the opportunity to light up your screens. Limbo is showing at Glasgow Film Festival from 3 March.


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Mark McCall

What an excellently well written review. Just enough info to let the viewers know what to expect, and a charming description of the main characters.

I’ll be sure to check this film out. Thanks for your contribution Carols