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Notes from a small island

With a nod to our screening of Limbo, Sarah Helm has an AA road atlas in one hand and a suitcase in the other...

The pandemic, aided by the opportunity to dial-in to work from the spare room, fuelled many a fantasy of upping sticks and relocating to more beautiful and rugged terrains around the British Isles, away from the hustle of the city.

Over the sea to Skye…

According to The Daily Record, holiday rentals in Scotland in 2021 increased 225%, compared to those in 2019, largely due to people desiring to travel to beautiful open spaces in the age of enforced staycations.  The images of Scotland promoted in the media often consist of an ethereal land, steeped in history and magical wisdom. Holiday makers are encouraged to breathe the sweet, heather-scented air and ramble for miles through mystical glens and enchanted lochs, before retiring to the local stately home, via a welcoming hostelry, warmed by a few house-drams of whisky, and listening to an impromptu set of traditional standards from the local Gaelic four-piece.

What the picture omits, is that for every enchanted traveller, delighting in a wild swimming session in the famous fairy pools of the Isle of Skye, there are 10 miles of tailbacks, and tourists parking indiscriminately all over the national park, in the hope of capturing that perfect shot for Instagram.

These images are obviously idealised, aimed at selling the dream and are as far from the reality as Renton and Spud pounding through the streets of Edinburgh, fleeing from the police, at the beginning of Trainspotting (1996).

Heather-Tinted GlassesScotland, romanticised as a haunting and magically beautiful destination for the world-weary traveller looking for solace, is a trope used in many films.Brigadoon (1954) sees two Americans finding themselves privy to a village which only presents itself to the world at large once every 100 years (not great for your Trip Advisor ratings).

Local Hero (1983) – the Bill Forsythe classic which tells the story of an American oil tycoon who sets out to buy a small coastal town, but gets more than he bargains for when he sends his more sympathetic employee to go out and meet the locals.

Loch Ness (1996) where Ted Danson is on a mission to disprove the existence of the country’s most famous aquatic celebrity.

Skyfall (2012) takes Daniel Craig’s James Bond on a nostalgia trip to his childhood roots in the Scottish Highlands, proving the old adage that you can’t go home again.

What We Did On Our Holiday (2014) stars Rosamund Pike and David Tennant, as parents on the verge of divorce while staying at the country home of Billy Connolly, and trying to entertain their unruly offspring.

And for those who feel that this list is too sentimental, please consider The Wicker Man (1973), where paganism and witchcraft run riot on a Scottish island to a horrifying climax – and if that doesn’t scare you… watch the Nicolas Cage 2006 remake…(be afraid, be very afraid – sorry, wrong film…)

Between a rock and a hard place…Which brings us neatly to Limbo (2020), this month’s second CFS offering, and winner of the prestigious Members’ Choice vote.  Set on a fictional Scottish island, but filmed in The Uists in the Outer Hebrides, Limbo explores a very different type of visit, and reached The Elgiva’s doors on Wednesday April 20th.

A deadpan comedy-drama, Limbo tells the story of Omar (played by Amir El-Masry), a young Syrian refugee, who is seeking asylum in Britain after leaving his parents in Turkey. Omar arrives on the Scottish island with few possessions to his name, but clutching an oud, a traditional Arabic instrument, which used to belong to his grandfather.

While awaiting on the decision for his right to remain, Omar attends cultural awareness classes with a group of single men all facing the same predicament and attempts to get accustomed to a new way of life and adjust to the climate.

British actor Amir El-Masry stars as Omar, and he learned to play the oud for the role. El-Masry studied his craft at LAMDA and came to prominence after appearing in the BBC series, The Night Manager (2016). Since then he’s worked on many international films and tv productions, including a small part in Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019). Limbo sees the actor in a rare leading role.

Amir El-Masry

A Personal TouchLimbo is directed by Ben Sharrock, whose earlier works include Pikadero (2015) and short film The Zealot (2012). Scottish-born Sharrock studied Arabic and Politics at university, which included the opportunity to live in Syria in his third year, just prior to the outbreak of the civil war. Sharrock went on to specialise in Middle Eastern Cinema, before going to film school and pursuing a career in the industry. Limbo is a personal film for the director, who wanted to tell a story about identity and, particularly, the identity of refugees.  It was a difficult process, taking a year and a half to write as an outsider from the situation. He wanted to make the film’s perspective less academic and more personal to the characters involved.

Sharrock gave an interview with the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 2020:“I felt that there was this gap in the middle, that we weren’t really looking at refugees in a way that kind of goes beyond the labels of…being a refugee.  So, I kind of really wanted to write a film about this and look at this as a subject matter.”

Sharrock’s dedication and perseverance paid off. Upon release, Limbo received praise from both critics and audiences, and received multiple nominations for Best Film and Best Director, including from the BAFTAs and the BFI Film Festival. Plus, it was selected for a screening at the Toronto Film Festival.

Ben Sharrock

Topical ThemesThe film’s subject matter is something that CFS has featured before in previous seasons – films including In a Better World (2010), Le Havre (2011), Lore (2013), Fire At Sea (2016) and Quo Vadis, Aida? (2021) have all explored the plight of refugees, but Limbo is unique in how it approaches the sensitive subject matter with both pathos and humour.

In view of current world events, this year’s Members’ Choice is both topical and timely. CFS is not a political organisation, but however you stand with the predicaments in Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine, even the most casual viewer of the news can’t have failed to have been moved by the desperate images of displaced people, fleeing to safety.

Occasionally, we as an audience need more than just entertainment, and hopefully this screening will provide particular food for thought. Cinema allows us to explore situations that we may not have otherwise experienced, and can be used for a catalyst for change and to start urgent conversations. We hope that you enjoy Limbo, and we’d love to hear your thoughts on it after the screening. If nothing else, may it inspire compassion and spread further tolerance to the plight of those less fortunate. After all, in a world where they say that you can be anything, be kind.

See you at the movies!


Information about the Chiltern Film Society can be found HERE

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