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  Limbo Island Life
Year: 2020
Director: Ben Sharrock
Stars: Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai, Ola Orebiyi, Kwabena Ansah, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Kennneth Collard, Sodienye Ojewuyi, Adam Abdalrhman, Darina Al Joundi, Nayef Rashed, Cameron Fulton, Lewis Gribben, Silvie Furneaux, Iona Elizabeth Thomson, Sanjeev Kohli
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Omar (Amir El-Masry) is sitting with his fellow refugees in a room watching their integration instructor Helga (Sidse Babett Knudsen) dance as a way of demonstrating what is acceptable for women in Britain, so the men will not overstep any social boundaries when they are called upon to mix with these new people - new to them, at least, as for various reasons, usually war, they have had to leave their parent countries behind. And where has it left them? In one of the most remote Scottish islands, where it is cold and they are lonely, and Omar must share a house with three other migrants as they await a decision on whether they stay or not...

Limbo's circumstances for its characters were not some sitcom level of scenario-making, as Scotland had become a destination for refugees and migrants, and they were often left to while away the long hours of the day and night with very little to do, not even a chance of a job - the characters are trained to make applications and interviews, but even this is for simple cleaning jobs, and one man's dreams of becoming a football player are ridiculous to everyone but him. Omar, meanwhile, did have a creative occupation when he was in Syria, he was a professional musician before the war descended and ruined his livelihood, forcing him to escape.

You can tell he is wrestling internally with what he fears was an act of cowardice not to stay behind and take up arms, but considering the alternative would to be blown up or shot, the film not-so-subtly asks well, what would you do? If you had a bloodlust - or a death wish - you would stick around and start shooting, but if you had an ounce of sensitivity you would hate what your nation has become and wish to get out of there as soon as possible. But as we see, being a migrant does not guarantee preferential treatment, and if you don't go by illegal channels the official ones have hardships of their own, which is how the quartet have been thrown together.

Omar is a man of few words, and that makes him difficult to warm to until we realise his shame and regret have him at the end of his tether, and his grandfather's musical instrument, an oud, may be the only object he has salvaged from his journey, but it's also a constant reminder of his inadequacies as he carries it around like a literal and metaphorical burden. Playing it is well nigh unthinkable, and while he could have arranged a concert, he simply does not have the gumption to shake himself up and organise, the crushing boredom of each day on the island sapping his energy, and the telephone box calls home to a not exactly understanding mother and father rubbing salt into his mental wounds. But he does have one thing in his favour: company.

Although they are not easy relationships, essentially, they are strangers thrown together into this house, writer and director Ben Sharrock managed to mine some truly funny moments out of their straightfaced humour, underlining what could be regarded as an absurdist situation. These four were not exactly The Young Ones or Father Ted's priests, but the dynamic was there, and you could see this premise making for a very decent television series. It was only in the second half where we were reminded this was actually very serious and maybe we should not be laughing that perhaps the film lost its grip on the audience; we were still invested, but the humanity of the first half was undercut when we were requested to accept tragedy as part of the mix. It went a little too far in aiming for effect, but nevertheless the ensemble cast was excellent throughout (special mention to Vikash Bhai as the possibly nuts Farhad) and this portrayed refugees in a way most people would never consider. Music by Hutch Demouilpied.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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