By Lynn Venhaus
An offbeat refugee drama with bits of dry British humor, “Limbo” is another look at the “stranger in a strange land” theme.
A young Syrian musician is stuck on a remote Scottish island where he and other refugees wait to find out if they have been approved for asylum.
Set in a desolate landscape with drab sparsely furnished living quarters adding to the dreariness, the four migrants sharing the place must make do. They are single men without financial means and given a bare-minimum allowance, for they can’t work yet.
They are trying to survive the waiting game in harsh weather conditions, learning English by watching “Friends” and picking up cast-off items at a community thrift center to help their lives.
Omar (Amir El-Masry) has sad eyes and a glum expression. He talks to his Mom on an outside pay phone, homesick for Syria but knows he can’t return, or he’ll be killed like so many others in the civil uprising. His brother’s fighting in the Army but his parents are in Istanbul. You can feel his fear, anger and desperation.
His roommate, Farhad, played by Vikash Bhai, is a talkative, cheerful Afghan who shares his dreams and goals. The other two staying there are bickering brothers from Africa – one dreams of playing professional soccer while the other has more modest aspirations. Kwabena Ansah is Abedi and Ola Orebiyir is Wasef, both delivering heartfelt performances.
The wintry winds are cruel and melancholy settles over these young men as they await their fate. Omar plays the oud, a heritage string instrument in the manner of a guitar and carries it everywhere.
The storyline gets very bleak, so this shouldn’t be classified as a comedy. However, there are a few funny bits. The guys attend a group assimilation session where two locals, Boris (Kenneth Collard) and Helga (Sidse Babett Knudsen), teach them the best practices in social situations. These lessons are a hoot.
Farhad, a Freddy Mercury fan, bonds with a barnyard chicken. Frustrated by the system but resigned to his plight, Omar has little patience for lighter moments.
In his feature film debut, writer-director Ben Sharrock brings out genuine observational moments. An eye for the quirky, he is particularly good at staging shots for optimum effectiveness, although he is very deliberate in pacing.
Sharrock was nominated for two BAFTA awards – Outstanding British Film of the Year and Best Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.
Sharrock was inspired by the personal stories of people he met while working for refugee camps in southern Algeria and living in Damascus before the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2009.
This is a thoughtful piece on homelands and borders. The best part is how the humanity ultimately shows through, and there is a glimmer of hope to sustain us.
“Limbo” is a 2020 drama written and directed by Ben Sharrock. It starts Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai, Kwabena Ansah, Ola Orebiyir, Kenneth Collard and Sidse Babett Knudsen. Rated R for language, it runs 1 hour, 44 minutes. In theaters. Lynn’s Grade: B
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.