Within ‘Limbo, ‘ an asylum story from an authentic point of view. No white saviors required


In March, U. K. House Secretary Priti Patel announced potential plans to send refugees to processing centers further afield — the Isle of Man or even Gibraltar. The report also suggested using remote Scottish island destinations as a place to house refugees — a recommendation that was immediately denounced by Scotland. It may sound equals parts inhumane and absurd in order to force refugees into solitude on an island, but that’s almost exactly the plot associated with Ben Sharrock’s second movie, “Limbo. ”

“It’s something I started five years ago and you think, ‘Is this going to become relevant? ’” the writer-director says, speaking from Scotland over Zoom. “And right here we are five years afterwards and it’s as appropriate as it has been. The concept for me from the beginning was knowing I used to be going to use absurdism plus humor in the telling from the story about refugees. Therefore the idea of sending asylum seekers to some remote Scottish island really was an absurdist concept, and today that’s potentially becoming a reality. ”

The timing certainly wasn’t intentional. “Limbo, ” which is today playing in U. H. theaters via Focus Features, has seen its international rollout unexpectedly delayed by COVID-19 pandemic. It was the selection of the canceled 2020 Cannes Film Festival and premiered, instead, at the Toronto International Film Festival within September. It was recently selected for a BAFTA Award designed for outstanding British film but won’t have its recognized U. K. release till July.

The particular film, which follows Omar, a Syrian musician waiting around in a small community for the outcomes of his asylum request, will be the result a decade of function by Sharrock, whose first appearance film, “Pikadero, ” arrived in 2015. Sharrock initially considered making it as a short film while in film school, inspired by his time residing in Damascus before the Syrian municipal war, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that he found the right entry point into the story.


“I knew I wanted to make a film about the subject matter, and what I was looking at specifically was the representation of refugees in the media, ” the particular director explains. “On a single side there was a demonizing of refugees, which is de-humanizing, and on the other side we had the pitying of refugees, which emerged a little bit later in line with the sheer amount of coverage from the refugee crisis. And that also became de-humanizing.

“I felt like there is this gap in the middle…. It started out with this mission in order to humanize the refugee experience and to write a story regarding refugees that isn’t concerning the refugee crisis, in a way. It is just human beings in the center of it. ”

Sharrock cast British Egyptian actor Amir El-Masry as Omar after seeing a photo associated with him online — something El-Masry only discovered recently — and was hit, during the actor’s audition, by his ability to convey Omar’s vulnerability. El-Masry studied the oud — Omar’s selected instrument, which he hauls with him all over the tropical isle — and worked with a dialect coach to give their Arabic the right accent. Initially, the actor wasn’t certain he wanted to play a refugee, but Sharrock’s stability of absurdist humor plus genuine heart convinced your pet this was a necessary telling.

“I was a little tentative to take on anything that provides anything touching on the asylum crisis, ” El-Masry admits, speaking from London. “But with ‘Limbo, ’ truthfully, I’ve never laughed plus cried at the same time from reading a script. It’s therefore warm and inviting, and it also touches on themes regarding family and identity and loss of identity. Something that anybody can proceed through at any given time. It just so happens that this man is usually fleeing his country out of necessity. I loved which he puts Omar into the forefront of the narrative — there isn’t a Westernized personality who is showing Omar a great way of living. ”

“A decision which was very important to me early on had been to have the refugees front plus center of the film, ” Sharrock adds. “Often along with films about refugees we now have a white, Western character who is used as an automobile to tell the story because of this concept that maybe we would relate to the particular Western character. But it has been important to me that we could relate directly to the refugee characters regardless of them being refugees. ”

The film shot in the winter of 2018 in the Uists, a group of islands in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, and several of the locals, as well as a group of real refugees, served as extras. It was an extremely challenging capture, with the winds reaching gale force almost daily and the crew forced to hike the gear straight into several locations not obtainable by car. But individuals bleak, beautiful landscapes play heavily into the film, specifically as the camera lingers more than Omar as he waits plus waits for word through the government. The slow, methodic pacing was purposeful plus built into Sharrock’s script.

“I wanted the particular audience to feel that kind of stasis that the characters onscreen are feeling, ” Sharrock says. “But you do not want the audience to get bored, so it has to be that balance of it being intentionally slow — and catch that feeling of limbo — but where the viewers sticks with these characters on the journey. ”


Amir El-Masry and director Ben Sharrock on the set of "Limbo."

Amir El-Masry and director Ben Sharrock within the set of “Limbo. ”

(Saskia Coulson / Focus Features)

“It was tough, ” El-Masry adds of the monthlong capture. “But I think it was required and useful for me personally. In order to even feel an oz of what someone might have felt in real circumstances. I think if we were inside a heated studio, you wouldn’t have been able to get the correct feeling. It wouldn’t really feel as authentic. We did not want to feel that level of comfort whenever you’ve got such an important film. ”

The girls of refugees around Omar in “Limbo” is based on real people and real stories, although none of the figures were created after a single specific individual. Sharrock met with refugees, spoke together with his friends in Syria and drew on as much analysis and firsthand documentation as he could find. Omar’s career as an oud player is also connected to several true stories. Sharrock notes that “the personas are an amalgamation of lots of different things, but one of the things in regards to the film, even though it’s kind of absurd, is that in some way or another it’s based on reality. ”

“Limbo” is not really political, nor does it stress the laws and immigrations processes in the U. E. Instead, it asks for empathy for its characters. It’s humorous, almost shockingly so , as well as the film allows the viewer to stay with Omar all through his experience, even when those moments are uncomfortable or even jarring. In the end, maybe the particular audience has connected with a refugee on a human degree in a way that expands their understanding of what it means to run away your home country and why someone might do that.


“We’re not hitting the target audience on the head with the information, ” El-Masry says. “He happens to be a man who is fleeing his country, but he is also a man who is shedding his identity and struggling with that, and I think a lot of people may connect to that. Ben’s not really trying to force-feed anything. After which, at the end, you can reflect and think, ‘Oh gosh, probably I need to do something about this. ’ He’s giving you that option, rather than forcing it lower your throat. What much better way to send that message across? ”