Omar is a promising young musician. Separated from his Syrian family, he is stuck on a remote Scottish island awaiting the fate of his asylum request.

Set on an unnamed remote Scottish island, ‘Limbo’ is a cleverly crafted drama about a group of asylum seekers who are housed on the island whilst their asylum applications are processed. There’s no timescale on this process and the men wonder inside whether this process is designed to break them, as they spend their days living in a small house where the biggest excitement of the day is waiting for the postman to arrive. It blends the mundanity of life for the asylum seekers in a cold, sparse land with little to do (they can’t work at this point), with the quirks of island life and the characters that inhabit it and it works very well as an offbeat exploration of the refugee experience.

Amir El-Masry plays Omar, a Syrian musician who is seeking asylum in order to provide a safe home for his family, who have left their homeland to escape the war. He’s sullen and expressionless and is wracked with guilt about his choices, as his family languish in Turkey and his brother continues to fight in Syria. A lot of the beauty is that much of what Omar is going through is left unsaid, because he either isn’t willing or doesn’t have anyone to say it too, with El-Masry’s internalised acting contrasting well with those around him. Those include his three ‘housemates’, Farhad (Vikash Bhai), Wasef (Ola Orebiyi) and Abedi (Kwabena Ansah), who all have different reasons for seeking asylum in the UK. Whilst waiting, much of their time is spent watching ‘Friends’ and looking after a chicken that Farhad has ‘adopted’.

Comedy and tragedy are not always comfortable bedfellows but in ‘Limbo’ I felt Ben Sharrock balances both well, making his potent points about the situation these men find themselves in whilst adding crucial levity with some offbeat humour. The integration seminars the asylum seekers have to attend are delightfully absurd, and I really enjoyed a couple of interchanges Omar has with a local shopkeeper (played by Sanjeev Kohli, who most will know, in Scotland at least, as Navid from ‘Still Game’). Although it has its own particular style, it reminded me of the works of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, and ‘Le Havre’ in particular, which covered a similar subject matter.

I was a huge fan of this film, finding it a sweet and funny portrayal of the refugee experience, whilst subtly adding in more potent political points that land well. I was deeply invested in the characters and their fates, and I liked that it managed to both be intimate and personal, whilst touching on much larger themes with equal elegance. ‘Limbo‘ is available on MUBI now and it’s a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered.

Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Ben Sharrock

Starring: Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai, Ola Orebiyi, Kwabena Ansah, Kenneth Collard, Kais Nashef, Sanjeev Kohli and Sidse Babett Knudsen

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