Limbo Review by Lyla Murphy

This film is gorgeous. Omar (Amir El-Masry), a musician from Syria, is waiting on a remote Scottish island with a group of other refugees for asylum approval, with the dream of relocating to London. His family sent him here not only to escape war, but with hopes he can fulfill his destiny as a professional oud player. The story is quite slow paced and deep (like perhaps being in limbo), but is thoroughly enjoyable. Filmed on Uist, Outer Hebrides, the stunning cinematography begs to be seen on the big screen. The ‘Cultural Awareness 101’ classes in the refugee centre, had me laughing from the first minute. I particularly loved the opening scene. It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.

As we learn more about these characters and their dreams, we experience a little of what it might be like waiting for an asylum approval letter year after year. ‘It’s a good thing that God has made dreaming for free,’ we hear Abedi (Kwabena Ansah) laugh almost sorrowfully, as the main characters chat over cereal in their shared house. They talk about why they have been sent here, in the middle of nowhere … probably to try and break their spirits so they leave and go back home.

The cinematography, by Nick Cooke, is beautifully done. Set in Scotland, we see vast open windblown grasslands; so real that it feels like you are there. Cooke digs into the muted tones of blue, green and grey, in this stark scenery. The authentic dilapidated cottages, and lamp-lit rocky ocean-shores are stunningly shot; starkly contrasting with buttery sunlight over rolling green hills and red postal vans in the mornings. We see birds migrating for winter before a snow-storm, and if you yearn to experience a true winter, you can really feel the chaotic blizzards.

This film has 19 nominations and 14 wins since debuting: including Best Feature Film, Best Actor, Best Director and Writer, at the BAFTA Awards Scotland 2021. The connection between Amir El-Masry (Omar) and Vikash Bhai (Farhad) is achingly sweet. As is Omar’s connection to his family. We see him missing home, the luscious gardens and apricot trees, Syrian food, and his music; nothing feels the same for him in Scotland. The story is quietly sad, quirky, and interspersed with comedic moments; intense arguments over Friends, cute chickens, and inefficient postal workers. There was only one predictable moment in the storyline (involving sumac). This movie contains so much of what it means, or should mean, to be human.

A heartbreakingly beautiful dirge of a film, like a dance between a Syrian oud and Scottish bagpipes playing beneath the Northern Lights, this movie is perfect for a relaxing evening and a snuggle beneath the stars. 5 stars.

By Lyla Murphy
22nd June 2022