The bleak setting of a wind-swept Scottish island is an icy purgatory for Syrian refugee Omar (an impressive Amir El-Masry) in this tragicomic drama from Scottish writer-director Ben Sharrock.
Omar and three mismatched companions – an Afghan and two Africans – have been sent to the island to await the outcome of their claim for refugee status.
The wait is interminable. They cannnot work and there is nowhere to go, nothing to do.
The three men – Farhad (Vikash Bai) from Afghanistan, Abedi (Kwabena Ansah) from Ghana, and Wasef (Ola Orebiyi) from Nigeria – share a delapidated house with peeling wallpaper and few amenities.
There is no internet reception and the island’s lone glass-walled phone box is their only contact with the outside world.
It’s a desolate situation but surprisingly director Sharrock finds some wry humour in the men’s predicament.
The absurd “culture awareness” classes they must attend play out like an absurd British sitcom as two actors try to show the meaning of “consent”.
A carload of local teenagers hurl abuse at Omar (is he Al-Qaeda, does he rape women, make bombs?), then give him a lift into town because it’s raining and they don’t want him to get wet.
Farhad, the Afghan, is incorrigibly cheerful, much to the amazement of the despondent Omar, who trudges relentlessly around the island, always carrying his grandfather’s oud (a type of lute).
A successful musician in Syria, he wonders now if he will ever play again.
“You walk around like that case is a coffin for your soul,” says his friend.
Farhad is obsessed with Freddie Mercury and he adopts a stolen chicken – Freddie Junior –
which clucks happily around the house
Sharrock’s compassion for refugees is obvious. He studied Arabic and politics at university and lived in Syria just before civil war broke out.
El-Masry, as Omar, brilliantly conveys the refugee’s feelings of displacement and loss, with few words but a haunting expression of numb despair.
He is torn between feelings of guilt for fleeing his country with his parents, and guilt for not remaining with his brother to fight for change. His parents are stranded in Turkey and while he waits in limbo he has no way of repaying the money he owes them
The leisurely pace of the film echoes the unhurried pace of British bureaucracy.
With a series of beautifully framed shots reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s stylish set pieces, cinematographer Nick Cooke emphasises the island’s stark beauty and loneliness.
This is an impressive film which puts a human face on the plight of the millions of displaced people worldwide who are searching for a safe place to live.
Limbo, part of Perth Festival’s LotteryWest film season, runs at UWA’s Somerville Auditorium from Monday, January 17, to Sunday, January 23.
Watch the trailer…