FlixChatter Review: LIMBO (2021)

LIMBO-movie

There have been some titles of certain films lately that leave me scratching my head, but this is one of those occasions where this one word title perfectly describes the story. The people in this film are literally in limbo, they’re in a forgotten place and state, uncertain of what to become of their fate as this new arrivals in a fictional remote Scottish island await results of their asylum claims. 

The main protagonist is Omar (Amir El-Masry), a well-educated Syrian musician who carries his grandfather’s Oud everywhere he goes. He ends up sharing a room in a rackety house with Farhad (Vikash Bhai) from Afghanistan, who somehow still remains chirpy after having been on the island for about three years. The contrasting personality often creates an amusing exchange between them, especially as Farhad suddenly decides to adopt a chicken from a nearby, unattended farm. I suppose when one has absolutely nothing to do and barely anyone to talk to, having a pet seems like a good idea. There are also two West African refugees Abedi (Kwabena Ansah) and Wasef (Ola Orebiyi) along Omar’s journey who I initially thought as brothers. Each have their own dream and life goal, as we all do, but let’s just say how one of the characters end up is quite heartbreaking.

limbo-movie-still

The vast Scottish Western Isles landscape is beautiful but feels desolate, which makes it even more evocative. As they say, sometimes the location becomes the character. The Scottish landscape truly helps you get into the characters’ head as they wait, and wait, and wait… with no hint or assurance whatsoever if their asylum papers would ever be granted. The culture class taught by husband/wife team Helga and Boris (Sidse Babett Knudsen and Kenneth Collard, respectively) offers absurd humor that’s both sad and amusing.

limbo-refugees

Ben Sharrock, in his sophomore feature effort, is definitely a filmmaker to watch. Limbo is a study of restraint as everything moves at a measured pace. The film has minimal dialog but it’s highly atmospheric. The slow-ness is deliberate, the camera takes its time following a character walking down a field or lingering for minutes as a character talks on the phone inside a phone booth. Sharrock acutely depicts a sense of loneliness and isolation that’s palpable and moving. In a sea of action films that just want to get your adrenaline going with endless high-octane action sequences, it’s actually refreshing to watch something that really allow you to immerse yourself in the story and the journey the characters are going through. I think some people might find the whole affair a bit too tedious, but I find it quietly absorbing given how it reminds me of my own life as an immigrant. Granted my experience before I finally became a US citizen were vastly different from Omar’s or Farhad’s, but I remember being in limbo while I was waiting for my H1B visa approval.

limbo-movie-omar-farhad

I love that Sharrock didn’t spoon feed us too much details of each character’s situation, but gave us enough hints to empathize with them. For example, the way he revealed Farhad’s situation in his home country, in just a simple sentence I understand why he didn’t mind the wait as he simply cannot go back. Small gestures of kindness involving a fellow refugee working at a small grocery shop is done really well that makes a seemingly obscure scene deeply memorable and meaningful. 

I feel like by the end of the film I’ve spent time with real people instead of watching actors playing a part. Of course that is part of the beauty of not having big-name stars, but later on I recognized El-Masry from his supporting role in BBC’s miniseries The Night Manager. I really like his performance here, there’s a quiet grace and compelling vulnerability about his performance. He’s got a nice rapport with Bhai who’s also able to balance the humorous and earnest moments nicely.

There are plenty of films about the refugee experience, but LIMBO definitely stands out from the pack for its unusual wry approach. The film isn’t afraid to be melancholic without resorting to over-sentimentalism. It even veers into surrealism involving Omar’s brother. The musical number towards the end wonderfully celebrates Omar’s musical past and I find it so moving. Though the ending isn’t neatly tied in a big red bow with some questions remain unanswered, it does end in a hopeful note, which I think is as perfect an ending as one can get.

4/5 stars

Have you seen LIMBO? I’d love to hear what you think!

FlixChatter Review – IN FABRIC (2019)

Written and Directed by: Peter Strickland
Starring: Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Fatma Mohamed, Gwendoline Christie

In Fabric is a twisted, highly stylized horror/dark comedy film. It follows a cursed dress’ journey as it leaves a department store and travels from person to person, wreaking havoc at every turn. Director Peter Strickland‘s love of 1970’s and 80s  exploitation films is no secret. His nuanced style reads like a highly abstract study of color, light and texture. I appreciate his attention to small details, such as the title sequences and soundtrack. The pops of red used throughout the film, whether from dresses, nail color, lipstick or blood is the same oversaturated color.  Which creates surrealist dream-like state with its vibrancy. 

Highly derivative, In Fabric takes hugely from the Italian Giallo genre, especially Argento’s Suspiria. Strickland has stated that this was unintentional as he was initially inspired by the haunting of clothes through the lingering of other people’s bodily secretions and the fact that buying second hand clothes taps into the idea of clothes that have survived through many other people’s lives. He has also said the highly tactile experience of old school department stores, in his youth, and their thin papered, extremely glossy catalogs were a huge inspiration for this work.

The store the dress is initially purchased from has a hypnotic power over people. This power is portrayed in its  advertisements, the strange rituals its sales people practice and the deranged way customers stream through shrieking, not dissimilar from black Friday shoppers. Although many elements seem exaggerated to the point of absurdity, the stilted interactions between Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and the salesperson Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed) are funny because the forcefulness and awkwardness of retail exchange is very real.

Fatma Mohamed + Marianne Jean-Baptiste

Luckmoore serves as the film’s Madame Blanche, a malevolent female spirit. Somehow this character takes the trope to the next level and if possible is even more mysterious and bizarre. Speaking indecipherable lines such as “Did the transaction validate your paradigm of consumerism?” and “The hesitation in your voice, soon to be an echo in the recess in the spheres of retail,” she serves as a scathing satire of retail exchange while also offering levity.

Overall, I liked the modern take on the Giallo genre, a welcome mix of  horror, comedy and shock eroticism. I especially liked the way Strickland made the genre his own adding mysticism and drawing from British humour and culture. The structuring of the film, however, made it a difficult watch and left me uncertain through much of its content.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen IN FABRIC? Well, what did you think?