Picture: Courtesy of Focus Options
The primary scene of Ben Sharrock’s melancholy comedy Limbo takes place at a refugee holding heart within the Scottish islands. To show a gaggle of male refugees the best way to work together as soon as (or if?) they enter British life, two dorky counselors do a stone-faced dance with one another, demonstrating acceptable shows of affection. They’re sporting the ’80s-ish clothes of the hopelessly awkward, and their boogie goes on far too lengthy. The person begins to get his arms into it. The digicam cuts to the room filled with asylum seekers, who watch expressionlessly.
In reality, the principle motion of your complete first half of Limbo is “watching expressionlessly.” What else is there to do in purgatory? Scottish writer-director Sharrock needs to keep away from the clichés of refugee dramas — the damaging journey, the teary reunion — so he has lower all that motion out. As a substitute of displaying us rescue or escape or crossing borders, Limbo unfolds in surreal pictures of nonetheless pale landscapes or nonetheless beige interiors. These 20 or so refugees have already fought their method to Europe, and now they’re suspended in a bureaucratic holding sample. Will they be granted asylum or despatched again? They’re stateless, they’re nowhere. They don’t have anything to do however wait.
Our focus is Omar (Amir El-Masry), a gifted musician who has managed to get out of Syria together with his grandfather’s oud, although he at the moment appears unable to play it. His housemates are the eccentric optimist Farhad (Vikash Bhai) and two brothers, the soccer-mad Wasef (Ola Orebiyi) and Abedi (Kwabena Ansah). Limbo was shot within the Uists, a set of notably distant islands within the Outer Hebrides. It’s not all the time solely clear in these chilly, salt-bleached locations what’s sea and what’s sky. The refugees, who’ve come from throughout, are surrounded by an oddball assortment of locals, a lot of them a bit bonkers (just like the younger individuals who do doughnuts of their automotive out on the sands), some garrulously racist. The extra the Scots pull bizarre faces, the extra the refugees let their very own go clean. In interviews, Sharrock has spoken about his love for The Band’s Go to, and you’ll see him borrowing the fish-out-of-water methods from that film right here — notably Eran Kolirin’s delicate use of embarrassment and the comedian deployment of slacks and mustaches.
Sharrock and his cinematographer, Nick Cooke, create a form of diorama flatness in each scene: Omar’s cohort stares at a tv in an underfurnished room; the 4 stand in clever compositions, ready to make use of a pay cellphone that sits glowing on the island’s vast moor. The milky mild that slides in over the Outer Hebrides doesn’t appear to forged shadows, so figures turn into sculptural, the white air isolating and showcasing them like a gallery’s white partitions. The movie is filled with these tableaux that emphasize that the boys, the islands, and Omar’s personal internal panorama are all caught in between.
For the primary chunk of the movie, all this stylization — even in its most stunning pictures — can truly be a little bit stifling. The management is so evident. And whereas Limbo treats the island as a personality, it may possibly deal with the characters like props. Sharrock’s comedy relies upon closely on (1) ugly ’80s pullovers and (2) the refugees staring deadpan on the folly of these round and amongst them. To gin up sufficient folly, Sharrock has to make almost everybody within the film … form of an fool. The townspeople and instructors are dingbats, Farhad is a goofball (he steals a rooster, which he names after Freddie Mercury), and Wasef insists he’s headed to London to play Premier League soccer for Chelsea. Sharrock has been scrupulous about avoiding one set of clichés in writing his refugee characters, however the extra he strives to be comedian the extra his personal script lets him down. As an example, he has the housemates watch Buddies DVDs and argue about whether or not Ross and Rachel had been on a break. We’re meant to be tickled by the incongruity, however man, it’s a lazy joke.
There’s a second, although, that turns the film decisively from one mode to a different. For the lengthy first part, the movie glides together with cool amusement, its fastidiously curated surreality tempered and arch. However when one of many 4 males is taken away to be deported, the entire movie adjustments. At first, the film doesn’t register the crack of their world: Sharrock’s icy palette stays the identical for some time, and his deliberate compositions don’t, for a time, alter. And but the comedy has dropped out a gap within the backside of the film. The shocked stillness within the actors’ eyes not looks as if Wes Andersonian poker face however the results of a barrage of horrible blows.
The deportation offers the film a seam down the center. The primary half is good-looking however coy, the second is messier however stronger and fiercer too. The ice that’s been encasing Omar begins to interrupt, and the movie itself begins to overflow — free of ironic anhedonia, it begins to work out the way in which it may possibly truly convey that means. After withholding expressive efficiency from us for almost your complete film, Sharrock unleashes an astonishing scene by which El-Masry has a dialog together with his brother, who has stayed behind to battle in Syria. The cautious framing is gone, and the digicam curls up on El-Masry’s shoulder like a cat. The shot can’t appear to get shut sufficient to him, drawn by the actor’s out of the blue wealthy portrait of a heat persona that has been frozen until then.
I rewound after I’d seen the film to look at the primary part once more. I needed to see if the beautiful second half would change how I noticed these first scenes, hoping I’d discover the wrong-foot, downbeat comedy darker or funnier. Would Farhad’s knitted panda hat knock me over if I gave it one other probability? Brief reply: No. However on that repeat viewing, the scenes did appear rather more scary. The management the actors exert to stay expressionless turns into a strain within the movie; when you’ve discovered how prickly and joyful El-Masry could be, as an illustration, his zoned-out passivity within the first part looks as if the glassy facet of a person in a coma. It’s an emergency; can’t anybody see that? His nonetheless face is definitely a purple flag, a hearth alarm, a waving hand sinking beneath the waves. It isn’t limbo this man is trapped in. It’s hell.