Nominated for two BAFTA Awards, including Best Picture, "Limbo" arrives state-side this weekend. And like it's subject, it is a film that feels delightfully stuck in the middle.
Omar (Amir El-Masry) is a Syrian refugee who has made it to Scotland, but cannot get to his final destination because he is waiting for his visa to clear. So are several others, essentially trapped in, well, limbo.
Omar is an inspiring musician, who carries around his grandfather's oud (a Middle Eastern musical instrument) but can't seem to remember how to play it. He befriends Farhad (Vikash Bhal), a Freddy Mercury-obsessed refugee who believes he can represent Omar as his agent, despite having no skills of that particular kind. Omar's only connection to his family is via a lone phone booth in the middle of nowhere, where he phones in to his parents still living in Syria to hear tales about his brother, who stayed back to fight for the cause.
The film is quirky and funny in a strange, Wes Anderson sort of way. The film begins with a long, static shot of Omar and other refugees in a classroom, as the two strange-looking teachers try to educate the refugees on things like the etiquette of courtship (the film smartly returns to this classroom time and time again whenever a bit of levity is called for). With literally nothing to do but wait, Farhad and Omar also sit around and watch old episodes of "Friends," a window into a world that they desperately want access to.
Written and directed by filmmaker Ben Sharrock, "Limbo" is a fitting title not only as it describes the main character's journey, but also in how in manages to live seemingly in-between two distinct genres. When it is not a quirky comedy, it is a pungent drama, knowing that the subject matter is quite important but never allowing itself to lean one way or the other for too long. It's an interesting experiment and when Sharrock gets it to work, it highlights how lost Omar feels in his life. When it doesn't work (less often), it sort of sucks the air out of the film.
The beauty of "Limbo" is that while in this weird purgatory, Omar finds a bevy of colorful, interesting and optimistic people that populate his life, and it's pretty much everything he might hope for in a freed life...but it isn't his family. He is displaced, and even when he finally finds the music within him, he longs for more.
Run Time: 1 hour 43 minutes.
Starring: Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhal, Kenneth Collard, Cameron Fulton, Sidse Babett Knudsen.
Written and Directed by Ben Sharrock ("Pikadero").
"Limbo" is available on Friday, April 30th, 2021.
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