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Limbo – movie review

Director & Writer: Ben Sharrock | 
Released: 2021 (UK) |

Rating 4.0 stars
This was an unexpectedly poignant and provocative film which had us captivated throughout. Set on a fictional remote Scottish island, this film written and directed by Ben Sharrock tells the story of a motley group of asylum seekers awaiting the dreaded official results of their application for asylum.
It centres on Omar (Amir El-Masry), a young Syrian musician who speaks good English who chose to seek asylum in the UK to get away from the turmoil back in his country. He’s left behind his parents who fled to Turkey with him and his older brother who remained in Syria to defend their motherland.
We see Omar constantly with his grandfather’s oud, the king of Arabic music instruments, which he has carried all the way from his homeland as a vestige of the life he left behind. With his playing hand in a cast we understand why he doesn’t play his oud. Yet when the cast is eventually removed we aren’t surprised that he is still unable to find the motivation to play his treasured instrument. Perhaps it’s his disappointment at not having achieved his aim of making a new life somewhere—where he could send for his parents who paid for his passage to freedom—or his guilt of not having said goodbye to his brother Nabil and stuck with him to defend their homeland.
His mood descends into a bleak state of limbo in this desolate, far flung corner of the world, not knowing if he would ever move forward or even backwards with his life.
Omar’s roommate Farhad (Vikash Bhai) is a Freddie Mercury fan with a different story. He tries his best to keep Omar’s spirits up, having himself been stuck in this predicament for almost three years. He tells Omar that the reason they’d been relegated to such isolation was so that it would break them, such that they would ask to return to where they came from, in desperation. 
We are constantly reminded that this is exactly the same strategy the Australian government adopts in their treatment and offshore incarceration of asylum seekers to deter others from doing the same.
Other minor characters are Wasef (Ola Orebiyi) who dreams of playing football for Chelsea FC and Abedi (Kwabena Ansah) who poses as Wasef’s younger brother to strengthen their joint case for asylum if they were seen as siblings. Scenes of their cultural education are hilarious, as are their encounters with the postman doing his delivery rounds and also the awkward conversations with the ignorant locals or the proprietor of the local grocery store.
It is the bleak landscape and overwhelming sense of despair that moves us the most. And to realise that the very human intention of fleeing persecution can be rewarded by such cruelty that seeks to deliberately break the spirit of already crushed souls, as we see closer to home in Manus Island, Christmas Island or Nauru.
Things eventually come to a head in a snow storm when tragedy strikes and Omar is completely broken.
But there is also a silver lining when hope is restored for Omar and when we are relieved, no, thrilled to see the music and vigour return to his life.