A comedy about Syrian refugees en route to London? Why not? Scottish director Ben Sharrock’s ‘Limbo’ crafts a film with very dry comedy and aching melancholy. In it, a young man, Omar (Amir El-Masry) is part of a group trapped in the Scottish isles. It’s sort of a halfway home for refugees. In there, they are in ‘limbo.’ Most of them have escaped the Syrian war, and is in the process of getting acclimated before plunging into their new homes (they are also waiting for their paperwork to be processed) Call it the Island created by red tape. Omar is an accomplished musician in Syria, and he is carrying with him his grandfather’s oud, which is a combination tambourine and guitar. Omar’s parents are in Istanbul, and his brother is left in Syria fighting the war. He is not only physically in limbo, he is emotionally hanging as well – a part of him wants to stay home and fight, another wants to be with his family, and another wants to move on in the world. Sharrok balances the comedy and absurdity and drama pretty well – you feel the longing in all their meanings here. Masry is great, able to show sadness in just his eyes, You find yourself smiling but also feeling his ache.
War is never easy to look at, and war is front and center in Waad al-Kateab’s documentary ‘For Sama.’ This is simply one of the most harrowing watches for me, and there were times I wanted to up and leave in the middle of watching it. This is centered in the city of Aleppo in Syria, under the corrupt Assad regime, who continually bombed the rebellious forces in the city with the aid of the Russians. Using that as a backdrop, the documentary documents the filmmaker as she struggles with everyday life with the resistance. It’s a wonder of all wonders that in the middle of all this chaos and strife, she falls in love with a young doctor, and has a child, Sama. This film is a love letter to her child, a sort-of explanation for her on why she stayed in Aleppo. As I said, it’s a tough watch, and the middle part can be exhausting as we get to see over and over and over the ravages of this war. But for me, this is an eye-opener. I will not pretend to know a lot about what is happening in that region, and this film made me want to do more to educate myself.