Omar (El-Masry) is a young Syrian who is awaiting a decision on his refugee status. He is living with half a dozen other refugees in a shared house in a remote and windswept location.
Omar has brought his oud all the way from Syria. He finds it impossible to play while he is haunted by memories of his brother who stayed behind. But at least he has his weekly phone calls to his mother and father, who didn’t make it further than Turkey.
The household members don’t have much to do, except for watching videos of Friends to improve their English, walking around the island and going to occasional classes on western culture (run by Sidse Babett Knudsen and Kenneth Collard in cameo roles).
Thankfully, the housemates get on pretty well together, especially Omar and Farhad (Bhai) and Wasef (Orebiyi) and Abedi (Ansah).
But tensions rise as the weeks turn into months and each man starts to wonder how realistic their expectations of the good life in the UK really are.
Writer-director Ben Sharrock bases his script on people he met while working with refugees and the characters are all deftly outlined and credible, as are their problems.
The characters’s bereft and listless lives come across strongly, as does the beautiful but dull island in Nick Cooke’s camera work.
My uneasiness is with the comic tone: Sharrock hangs the film on the hook of this comic mood – without it the film wouldn’t be much fun – but that necessarily effects the fleshing out of characters and the issues they face.
So, while Limbo is a fun watch, it feels like it only succeeds in so far as it diminishes characters and their problems, encapsulating (or is that reducing to?) Farhad’s emotional desires, for example, in his obsession with a neighbouring farmer’s chicken.
Even Omar’s oud playing, although it is a big part of the film’s narrative arc, seems like a screen-writing trope rather than an urgent and necessary part of the one refugee’s character.
Limbo is out on DVD and Blu-ray from Mubi on 25 October 2021.