Having been in a cinematic release limbo of its own since a well-received debut at 2020’s London Film Festival, Ben Sharrock’s powerful Limbo finally arrives in cinemas this week.
Omar is a promising young musician. Separated from his Syrian family, he is stuck on a remote Scottish island awaiting the fate of his asylum request. Not only is he physically stuck on the island but also on a spiritual and emotional level.
He wanders the island clutching his Oud in its case but never plays it. He left Syria in search of a new life, a better life. Due to a hand injury he has not played his instrument since he left. In a way it represents a link to his old life, the one he is escaping. If he were to play it again, would it prevent him from moving on? Does he need to forge ahead and find a new identity?
Writer-director Ben Sharrock was keen not to politicise the issue of refugees in the film, instead using it as a platform to humanise the figures who have become headlines and statistics in the UK media. Heart and humanity are key to allowing audiences to connect with the characters as they remain in this holding pattern, like a plane circling an airport waiting to land.
One of the greatest strengths of the film is the way that it beautifully balances tone. Sharrock skillfully manages to deftly move between comedy and tragedy (sometimes within the same scene). It sets its stall out early with the cold open of a familiarisation class being taught on what not to do in a nightclub. The Office-style cringeworthy humour juxtaposed with the blank faces of the refugees as they watch. It provokes the response of not knowing whether to laugh or cry and the result is something simultaneously heartbreaking yet uplifting.
If you watch one film about people experiencing time pass on a remote island this month, make it Limbo.
Limbo is in UK cinemas from July 30th
Director: Ben Sharrock
Stars: Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai, Sidse Babett-Knudsen
Runtime: 109 minutes