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Canberra Today 19°/22° | Monday, January 24, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Movie review / ‘Limbo’ (M)

“Limbo” (M) *** and a half

HERE is what award-winning Scottish filmmaker Ben Sharrock has written about himself: “I graduated in Arabic and politics… wrote my dissertation on Arab and Muslim representations in American cinema and TV. 

“When the ‘refugee crisis’ became very prevalent in the media, I started to question the dehumanising representations of refugees – a faceless mass that was being demonised or pitied.”

“Limbo” begins with Helga (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Boris (Kenneth Collard) explaining some of the niceties of British idiom to a group of Syrian asylum seekers hoping to gain admission to the UK. One of them is Omar (Amir El-Masry) whom later we see trudging along a Scottish rural road carrying his only material possession – the case containing his oud. 

What’s an oud, did somebody ask? It’s “a short-neck lute-type, pear-shaped, fretless stringed instrument usually with 11 strings grouped in six courses”.

The story soon settles on Farhad (Vikash Bhai) as a friend concerned for Omar’s future but able to do only little to influence it. From Syria, Omar’s mother tells him in telephone conversations how bad things are for the family. Omar’s brother Nabil (Kais Nashif) will eventually come to Scotland bringing gifts reminding Omar of home.

The early part of the film in time develops into guarded acceptance of the Syrians by the locals. Sharrock builds cautious optimism into his narrative, inviting the filmgoer to form expectations of characters’ outcomes that avoid cliché.

The story unfolds on flat marshy country often blanketed by fog, bleak, cold, snow. In one sequence, Omar and Fahad join crofter friends on a small boat ferrying half a dozen sheep through a storm to shelter on a bigger island. The moment took me to the first stanza of John Keats’s poem

St Agnes’ Eve – Ah, bitter chill it was!

The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;

The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,

And silent was the flock in woolly fold

While the rest of the poem takes a much different direction soon after those lines, the simplicity of what was on the screen defines the moment.

The film’s focus on men far from home evoked the line on Adam Lindsay Gordon’s gravestone in Melbourne – “kindness in another’s trouble, courage in your own”. Simple, doggerel perhaps, but human qualities no less indisputable. 

At Dendy

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Dougal Macdonald

Dougal Macdonald

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