Ben Sharrock’s Limbo was a fantastic ending to my run of TIFF movies this year. With beautiful cinematography and an excellent cast of uplifting, eccentric supporting characters, Limbo still manages to be fun despite the crux of the story revolving around the heavy subject of Syrian refugees awaiting letters about their refugee status on a remote Scottish island.
The film stars Amir El-Masry as Omar, a serious, down-trodden refugee who makes frequent calls back home and seems pained by the life he has left behind. Were Limbo to focus solely on his character, this would be a very dull, somber feature. But he is surrounded by eccentricity at every turn: quirky cultural-awareness course leaders; local shop owners who eat raw onions like apples; flatmates obsessed with Friends and Freddie Mercury; local tour-operators dressed up as dolphins. It’s the supporting characters that help make Limbo more than the sum of its parts, and give the entire movie real charm and identity.
Omar is an excellent foil to their dry, deadpan humour – some of the jokes work even better when you just see him stare blankly back at his charismatic peers. Particular praise has to go to Vikash Bhai’s performance as Omar’s friend Farhad, who brightens up even the gloomiest of winter scenes. Despite all the humour, Limbo is filmed through a very serious lens, and if you aren’t paying attention you’d easily miss a lot of the comedy here. This movie is either as serious or as funny as you want it to be, striking a great balance between the two.
Sharrock constantly peppers amazing, stylish shots throughout Limbo – there is surely some influence from Wes Anderson movies at play. Lingering stills show off how scenic Scotland is (even in grey, foreboding weather). Characters, too, are framed in scenes perfectly – almost every shot feels like it’s had considerable thought put into how it will translate onto the screen.
There’s some dramatic shifts in tone at points that can feel like they come out of nowhere, particularly when other aspects of the film feel extremely light in comparison. The tone is slightly reminiscent of Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit – albeit more dry and understated, with a little less pay-off. But this doesn’t detract from Limbo too much – it tells a good story helped along by a fantastic set of outlandish characters who come and go throughout.