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Review: Limbo – “One of the best absurd quirky comedies that will be released this year”

In popular culture, the asylum-seeking process in the UK usually vilifies or pities those who have to go through it, so when a film approaches the experience from a dramatic-comedy perspective it sounds like an impossible feat. When the current climate is anything but hostile, Director Ben Sharrock strives to add humanity and dignity without being saccharine in his approach. Providing one of the best absurd quirky comedies that will be released this year, Limbo has already garnered many nominations and rightly so, but most importantly it is a very good film.

Focusing on the experience of Syrian refugee Omar (Amir El-Masry) who has been relocated to a remote Scottish isle while he awaits the results of asylum application, we start with an inappropriate cultural awareness lesson on consent presented by the eccentric locals Helga (Sidse Babett Kudsen) and Boris (Kenneth Collard). After these hilariously poor attempts to make Omar and the other refugees feel welcome, life follows a kind of pattern. The refugees crowd around a payphone so they can call home, wander around the isle and binge-watch Friends all while filmed in a picturesque way reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s style. This all adds to the jarring surreal nature of being in a country without really being allowed to be comfortably secure.

Omar carries around with him a case to carry his Oud, a musical instrument he is proficient at except for the fact his hand is currently in a cast. As he wanders the remote isle he spends time with his flatmate Farhad (Vikash Bhai) who has been waiting for the results of his application for 36 months. Farhad is a brilliant character and it is a shame Vikash has not been nominated as a supporting actor for portraying the Freddie Mercury-obsessed friend. Farhad notices Omar has had his Oud firmly locked in its case but is never out of his sight, so he nominates himself to be manager/agent and book him into the local open mic night.

As Omar tries to figure out his new identity between meeting the locals – who in one breath tell him not to commit any acts of terrorism but are also nice enough to offer him a lift home – and calling his family who have fled Syria and are now in Turkey, worrying about his safety and his access to spices. Torn between the serious and the silly, Limbo is filled with witty humour and takes sharp satirical punches all while filming the beautiful Scottish landscape.

Limbo’s writer-director Ben Sharrock carefully presents a quirky comedy and a human drama, which knows how to speak to the humanity of refugees who will see themselves as more than just their residency status. Reflected in Omar’s previous life in Syria as a talented musician, Limbo presents a man whose identity is being challenged and his attempts to make sense of the relationships around him. The film embraces the Kafkaesque asylum process and mines it for laughs’ anyone who enjoys quirky comedies with a bite should really sit down and enjoy this immensely.

Focus Features will release Limbo in US cinemas on 30th April 2021. It opens in the UK on 30th July 2021.

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