“Limbo” (2020) covers the story of a Syrian immigrant stuck in the asylum process in Scotland along with several other asylum seekers from around the world.
Omar (Amir El-Masry) has been waiting months for his asylum process to get processed by the UK. The UK government has a refugee “camp” on a tiny island in Scotland. The “camp” is a series of small houses where four or more people share the space. They get meager money to buy the essentials of life. They get cultural education to help with the introduction to UK society if they are released. Otherwise most of their time is spent whiling away time waiting for their applications to be processed. We only learn of one character’s duration of stay there so far which has been almost three years.
The movie has a very “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Alexander Solzhenitsyn feel to it. The drudgery and hopelessness of it all permeates the whole film. Over the course of the movie Omar’s flat mates go from three down to zero while he waits his turn to determine his own fate. One dies trying to escape extradition. Another is extradited. The last, the one who we know has been there for nearly three years, had his request accepted. We learn that his parents are also in a refugee camp in another country. They too are having the same struggles. Meanwhile Omar’s brother is still back in Syria fighting, vacillating between telling them it’s safe enough that they should all come back and help with the fight and being scared for the first time in his life. It doesn’t feel like living but really just existing. Omar was a musician back home but he doesn’t feel the urge to play at all, even though he carry’s the family heirloom instrument around with him everywhere he goes.
The movie got off to a very slow and awkward start, probably intentionally. As it went on I got more a feeling of being embedded in the world with them. How desperate would I need to be to subject myself to that process? How do you not lose hope when you are there waiting months and years with no insight into where the bureaucratic machinery is in its processes? How does one adjust to the reality that whatever level of prominence and success you had before is now gone forever and the reality of your future even if asylum is granted being orders of magnitude more meager? Omar was from a successful musician family in Syria. They were wealthy enough to have a house with an apricot orchard and to not want for much. All of that is gone forever. His one flatmate had delusions of grandeur about becoming a professional football player but most just aspire to at best survive and live in some level of comfort in the UK.
As I said it had a very slow and awkward start. By the fifteen minute mark I wasn’t connecting with the story, the characters, or anything. I actually considered maybe leaving but thankfully decided to see it through. The drudgery is the point. The apparent randomness of people’s actions is the point. The feeling of being in some weird no man’s land is the point. So just go with it. You’ll get there and get an inkling of what it’d be like to be in that position in your own life. I’m rating this 7/10.