THE STORY – 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.
THE CAST – Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai & Sidse Babett Knudsen
THE TEAM – Ben Sharrock (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 103 Minutes
By James Palmer
Sometimes something is so ridiculous, the only way you can get its message across is by making it funny. In Ben Sharrock’s “Limbo,” the message is to look at the British viewpoint of asylum seekers – how officials deal with it as well as the naive public. While these are just characters that we meet along the way, the story of “Limbo” is about Omar (Amir El-Masry), a young musician who is awaiting his asylum claim while stuck on a remote Scottish island.
Scottish isn’t blessed with the greatest weather or the most eye-catching sights but “Limbo” makes it look as aesthetic as it ever could. Shots of Omar walking in the British winter snow feels like a painting, especially when he camps below the Northern Lights. Despite a 4:3 ratio, the film also finds its characters usually occupying wide empty spaces. Britain is full of empty fields and districts – it’s a boring place that isn’t at its “tipping point” like far-right propaganda has spouted for the past five years. In his second feature, Sharrock is able to play with the composition and symmetry that a square format can allow. Through various conversations, a character is usually placed on one side of the frame, maintaining the empty space left behind them. When a phone booth is placed in the center, a bypasser is standing on one side to still forbid the illusion of everything being aligned. These choices leave this depiction of Britain feeling fake. Omar and the asylum seekers seem to ask themselves and others why they really want to come to the UK and this feeling of inauthenticity leaves a lingering desire.
We sympathize with Omar but at the same time, his stone-faced persona and lack of charisma brings about humor within his encounters. The people he bunks with are quite zany characters who stand out even more next to him. Farhad (Vikash Bhai), another asylum seeker, is obsessed with the band Queen and finds a chicken naming him Freddie Jr. Omar’s place should not be ridiculed but Sharrock decides to take this adversity and laugh at it. It isn’t just these other asylum seekers but when some Scottish teenagers stop along the road and speak to Omar they make remarks about him “being a terrorist” and other racial stereotypes you could possibly think of. His face doesn’t move at the comments. He just stares at them and listens – his choice to not respond tells you all you need to know. These people that define (quite alarmingly a majority of) the British public are morons and your breath should not be wasted on them. This causes a great juxtaposition with asylum seekers. Being forced to sit in a classroom like they’re six years old, they’re taught with a chalkboard by teachers on how to approach women and ring job centers for employment.
These people want to decide the future of others and the majority of them are clearly happy to use others to their own advantage. In a conversation with a local, Omar is asked about a potential job but states he can’t do it as he’s still waiting for his claim to be accepted. But the man is happy to just give cash in hand, presumably much lower than minimum wage. Whether or not Omar’s claim is accepted isn’t the point. It’s the fact that the British life waiting for him on the other side is nowhere near idealized as others could imagine.
The morality and driving point for Omar’s character goes back to his separated family, who can only reach by phone. They ask for money from him and want updates regarding where he is in the UK, with him originally wanting to go to London. But as a young musician, a creative mind isn’t seen as a necessity for the country, only capital to use for their labor. “Limbo” is not a film of rags to riches film or providing a message that hope will prevail. It’s taking the absurdity of life and the rules that are set in place by society and laughing at them, mocking how those in a greater position in life are quick to draw judgment on others below them.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A great British drama that blends its comedy by taking into the account the stupidity of real people.
THE BAD – Some characters may go too far into the bizarre with their performances, leaving the validity of the story being questioned.
THE OSCARS – None