Written and Directed by: Ben Sharrock
Starring: Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai, Ola Orebiyi, Kwabena Ansah, Kenneth Collard, Kais Nashef, Sidse Babett Knudsen
As a nation of immigrants, you would think that we would be excited to bring people in to experience all that the land of opportunity has to offer. As I’ve discovered, an opportunity is what you make of it, and yet, I still manage to find myself isolated on my journey.
Ben Sharrock’s “Limbo” perfectly hits on this feeling in his Award-winning film, having won several awards in 2020 at the Cairo International Film Festival and the San Sebastián International Film Festival as well as being accepted into Cannes. It recently won at the British Independent Film Awards and was nominated for several BAFTA’s.
Speaking to its themes of being in limbo, Omar, played with a great stoicism by Amir El-Masry, carries the family’s oud, an intricate yet heavy musical instrument from his homeland. Sharrock infuses Omar’s journey with several conversations with his mum and dad back home in war-torn Syria to lend a flavor of who Omar was, along with an oft-repeating flashback of a performance.
Helping Omar adjust to life on a remote, wind-swept Scottish island is Farhad (Vikash Bhai), Wasef (Ola Orebiyi, and Kwabena Ansah’s Abedi, also a part of the group of asylum seekers. They, too, are in limbo, but they seem more well-adjusted to the wait for their turn to be granted asylum or turned around and sent back home than Omar is.
Omar’s budding friendship with Farhad, who enjoys the intimacy of pirated copies of “Friends,” defines “Limbo” and helps us see what an independent spirit Omar is; he needs the right opportunity. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention his need to talk to his older brother, a condition that pushes Omar to ultimately be a better version of himself.
Omar’s story is intricately framed in the Academy aspect ratio of 4:3 by cinematographer Nick Cooke. The wind-swept hills and the grey, overcast look of the film help place us in Omar’s situation, his burden, amplified by the oft-mentioned oud or the peach leather his mum used to make when he was a boy. He longs for home, as Sharrock also weighs Omar’s future.
The intricacies in the cinematography also translate into other technical elements of the film. Hutch Demouilpied’s score carries the emotional underpinnings of Omar and Farhad through their laughs, their joys, and their tribulations.
All of these pieces come back to Sharrock’s ingenious script and Amir El-Masry’s performance. Certainly not left out to flap in the gale-force winds are the deadpan humorous skits featuring Boris (Kenneth Collard) and Helga (Sidse Babett Knudsen). They teach a class to the incoming asylum-seekers on behaviors. There’s a delightful set of scenes featuring a wayward postman who dots every house, delivering mail and packages, except for the place Omar and Farhad share.
It is these wonderfully humorous moments that capture what would otherwise be an interminable wait for a letter saying that your eyes have been opened.
I rather suggest that Ben Sharrock is saying that “Limbo” is an untapped opportunity in the middle of boredom and isolation. It is through the human connectedness that we share as a species that makes “Limbo” work.
“Limbo” plays exclusively in theaters and is Highly Recommended.