Photograph: Courtesy of Focus Options
The primary scene of Ben Sharrock’s melancholy comedy Limbo takes place at a refugee holding middle within the Scottish islands. To show a gaggle of male refugees easy methods 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 carrying 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 stuffed with asylum seekers, who watch expressionlessly.
The truth is, the principle motion of the complete first half of Limbo is “watching expressionlessly.” What else is there to do in purgatory? Scottish writer-director Sharrock desires to keep away from the clichés of refugee dramas — the damaging journey, the teary reunion — so he has reduce all that motion out. As an alternative of displaying us rescue or escape or crossing borders, Limbo unfolds in surreal photos of nonetheless pale landscapes or nonetheless beige interiors. These 20 or so refugees have already fought their approach 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 presently 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 significantly distant islands within the Outer Hebrides. It’s not at all times totally 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, lots of them a bit bonkers (just like the younger individuals who do doughnuts of their automobile 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 may see him borrowing the fish-out-of-water methods from that film right here — significantly 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 suave compositions, ready to make use of a pay telephone 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 grow to be 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 lads, the islands, and Omar’s personal inside panorama are all caught in between.
For the primary chunk of the movie, all this stylization — even in its most lovely photographs — can truly be a little bit stifling. The management is so evident. And whereas Limbo treats the island as a personality, it might 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. For example, he has the housemates watch Pals DVDs and argue about whether or not Ross and Rachel have 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 modifications. 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 surprised 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 best way it might truly convey which means. After withholding expressive efficiency from us for almost the complete film, Sharrock unleashes an astonishing scene wherein El-Masry has a dialog together with his brother, who has stayed behind to combat 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 abruptly wealthy portrait of a heat character that has been frozen until then.
I rewound after I’d seen the film to observe the primary part once more. I needed to see if the attractive second half would change how I noticed these first scenes, hoping I might discover the wrong-foot, downbeat comedy darker or funnier. Would Farhad’s knitted panda hat knock me over if I gave it one other likelihood? 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 realized how prickly and joyful El-Masry might be, for example, his zoned-out passivity within the first part looks as if the glassy side of a person in a coma. It’s an emergency; can’t anybody see that? His nonetheless face is definitely a purple flag, a fireplace alarm, a waving hand sinking beneath the waves. It isn’t limbo this man is trapped in. It’s hell.