[Screen It]


(2021) (Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai) (R)

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Drama: Refugees from various parts of the world end up on a remote Scottish island awaiting asylum.

On a remote Scottish island, there exists a small immigration center where refugees from various parts of the world await being granted asylum. Among them is Omar (AMIR EL-MASRY), a once aspiring Syrian musician who carries around his grandfather's oud, but who hasn't played since injuring his hand. He makes calls back home to his parents who make him feel guilty about not staying and fighting with his brother.

His new companion is middle-aged Afghan refugee Farhad (VIKASH BHAI) who's seemingly been there the longest, while their housemates are Wasef (OLA OREBIYI) and his 17-year-old "brother," Abedi (KWABENA ANSAH), who've arrived from Africa. As the days pass by and they receive both support and disdain from the locals, Omar tries to come to grips with his current situation.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

If you enjoyed watching Tony Manero deal with his working-class blues by doing The Hustle in "Saturday Night Fever," Baby and Johnny overcoming their class differences in "Dirty Dancing," and Ren McCormack loosening up a stuffy town in "Footloose," you're going to love "Limbo." It's the tale of a boring Scottish town on the coast where fun is forbidden. That is, until several refugees show up with a pole in hand and show the locals how to scoot their way beneath that and...

What's that? Really? It's not that sort of limbo? How is someone going to make a fun dance movie about "an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution?" Okay, so this dramedy from writer/director Ben Sharrock isn't a dance flick.

But it sort of starts like one as a bunch of refugees from various parts of the world sit slack-jawed watching two middle-aged "cultural awareness" instructors "dance" while indicating what sort of male hands-on behavior is and isn't considered appropriate in this part of the world.

That intro sets the tone for this bittersweet tale of the immigrant experience, Scottish style. Among those men is Omar (Amir El-Masry), a refugee from Syria who's arrived with little more than his grandfather's oud and a busted hand that keeps him from playing that. Oh, and a sense of guilt -- mostly fueled by his parents on long-distance calls on a payphone out in the middle of nowhere -- that he hasn't spoken to his brother who's back home fighting in the war.

His new best friend is Farhad (Vikash Bhai) who physically reminded me of Freddie Mercury even before his character mentions he's named a pet chicken after the late lead singer of Queen. And then there's Wasef (Ola Orebiyi) who fancies his ticket to immigrant freedom will be punched via his soccer skills, something his 17-year-old "brother" Abedi (Kwabena Ansah) doubts will become a reality.

They're all stuck in the titular state on the Scottish isle, unable to work until they're cleared to do so. And thus they while away their time calling home when not attending the aforementioned cultural assimilation classes and dealing with conflicting reactions from the locals.

Much like the recent "Nomadland" that leisurely featured characters without a permanent home, this film plays out in a slow, unhurried fashion. That might bother some viewers looking for something more exciting or with a greater inclusion of comedy -- sorry, no limbo poles come into play over the 100 or so minutes -- but it's a well-made offering featuring strong performances from the leads.

And in telling its tale of a unique refugee experience, it might just open some eyes, minds, and hearts of those who view such desperate people with disdain, like what happened when Mr. Bacon cut loose and went all footloose. "Limbo" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed April 16, 2021 / Posted April 30, 2021

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