Limbo 2020 Ben Sharrock Film Review

Limbo (2020), written & directed by Ben Sharrock | FEATURE FILM REVIEW

Moving, enthralling, and beautifully shot, Ben Sharrock’s BAFTA-nominated deadpan comedy-drama Limbo (2020), about a group of refugees on an unnamed Scottish island, is a must watch.

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Waiting in limbo

Limbo centres on Omar (tremendously played by Amir El-Masry), a young musician from Syria who has travelled to the UK alone. He, along with other refugees from a number of different countries, have been sent to a remote island while they wait to find out if their requests for asylum have been granted.

Living in bleak accommodation and unable to work, the men must wait in limbo between their past life and the futures they hope for.

‘A coffin for his soul’

For almost the entirety of the film, Omar is seen carrying his grandfather’s oud (a pear-shaped stringed instrument), but never playing it. He uses the excuse of a broken wrist but in reality he seems unable to bring himself to play, despite being a well-renowned player in Syria. The oud is his last connection to his life before and Farhad (Vikash Bhai) comments that Omar carries it around ‘like a coffin for his soul’.

Actor Amir El Masry in Limbo (2020)
Actor Amir El Masry (front, left) in Limbo (2020)

Omar’s closest bond is with optimist and Freddie Mercury superfan Farhad who manages to remain ever-cheerful, despite the fact he has been waiting for ‘32 months and five days’ for his letter from the British government granting him asylum.

They live with Nigerian brothers Wasef (Ola Orebiyi) and Abedi (Kwabena Ansah). By focusing on a small group of characters, Sharrock allows the viewer to get to know and understand them as individuals with families, dreams and stories.

Where is the comedy?

Despite the film’s serious subject matter and heart-wrenching scenes (particularly in its second half), there is still a lot of comedy to be found in Limbo (2020).

Farhad serves as the film’s main source of comedic relief, and is a stark contrast to Omar’s more solemn presence. There is recurring but subtle humour throughout as he makes the most of whatever he can find in the island’s donation centre, including a Friend’s box set which he, Wasef, and Abedi become heavily invested in. The jokes never seem out of place and allow the viewer to connect with the characters more deeply.

In contrast, there are more obvious attempts at comedy in scenes with the eccentric duo Helga (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Boris (Kenneth Collard), who lead ‘cultural awareness’ classes for the refugees. The scenes are funny, but they don’t blend into the rest of the film as well as the quiet humour mentioned before.

BAFTA-nominated Limbo (2020), film poster.
BAFTA-nominated Limbo (2020), film poster.

Scenery plays an important role

Sharrock and cinematographer Nick Cooke use scenery of the secluded and windswept island to reflect the loneliness of the characters to great effect. The island is beautiful, but the wide open spaces and rough seas that surround the characters as they are placed in the centre of the frame shows how they are isolated from both their past and future. With little phone signal available, a lone phone box is the refugees’ only link to home.

An emotionally hard watch

Overall, Sharrock’s film serves as a thoughtful and powerful reminder that there are real human beings behind the headlines regarding the refugee crisis. While at times the film is an emotionally hard watch, it’s witty, compassionate and sensitively portrays the loneliness of its characters as they are caught between two worlds.

4 out of 5 stars