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One topic that has been, and continues to be, rather contentious is that of refugees, so here’s a film that should receive plaudits purely for tackling the subject. Not only that, but Limbo manages to do so in an extremely subtle and humorous manner.
If the title of this review sounds akin to a crossword clue, then that’s pretty apt because our hero, Omar (Amir El-Masry), is a Syrian asylum seeker who finds that trying to get a foothold in a strange land can get pretty complicated.
And that strange land happens to be a quiet, remote Scottish island, where he and his fellow seekers soon attract attention, for both right and wrong reasons. Whilst the setting is fictional, filming actually took place on the islands of North and South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides, with some genuine refugees as extras.
Evidently then, writer and director Ben Sharrock was aiming for as much realism as he could get, which comes in extremely handy as the movie feels like it has a point to prove – that refugee life is one tough gig – and it does so with bundles of conviction, but without ever taking itself too seriously. It’s another splendid effort from Sharrock, whose first feature, Picadero, won the 2016 Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Limbo itself was recently nominated for two BAFTAs, one of which was in the Best Film category.
For much of the 100-minute runtime, we see Omar walking around the island carrying his oud. So what’s one of those when it’s at home? None other than a lute-like stringed instrument of Middle-Eastern origin – so there you go. The oud becomes almost representative of Omar’s journey, which is this movie to a tee as symbolism is a theme that runs throughout the piece. These metaphors appear frequently enough to make the point, but not too often that they clutter the landscape.
The dialogue is wonderfully written. “Sparing but sparkling” would be a good way to sum it up, as it’s kept to a minimum, but when it does crop up it can be heartfelt, humorous, or a bit of both. It’s a little puzzling to begin with, but you soon realise it’s part of the film’s unique off-the-wall charm and all part of the plan to wrap you around its little finger.
It certainly manages to do that. Limbo is now on general release in the UK.