Ben Sharrock: “Limbo’s humor comes naturally from its characters”

The Scottish filmmaker offers an original and absurd look at the daily life of a Syrian asylum seeker stuck in a small Scottish fishing island while waiting to know his fate

Limbo is your second feature film, five years after Pikadero (unreleased in France). But when did the idea come from?

Ben Sharrock: Before I started in cinema, I studied Arabic and political science at the University of Edinburgh and in the process, I spent a year in Syria in 2009, a few months before the war bursts. So this subject has interested me for a long time. Then I went to film school and there I developed a short film project that I wanted to shoot. in a refugee camp in southern Algeria. To prepare myself, I lived in one of these camps working there for an NGO. My short film project never saw the light of day, but the interest in this subject and the impact that refugee status has on a person’s identity have never left me. Especially since over the years, this issue of refugees has increasingly occupied the media space. So I knew that one day I would make a film of it. All that remained was to find the plot

How did you build that of Limbo ?

First by deciding that the entryway to the story would be a refugee and not a Western perspective on the subject. Then, using the tone that would not hesitate to go into the field of absurd humor to create a contrast with the tragedy of the situation. It was a long writing process to get to where I went to meet refugees and members of NGOs so that they kind of allowed me to go into that field. And most of them explained to me that I wasn’t on the wrong track precisely because in the dramatic daily life they live, humor is their lifeline. Since then, moreover, reality has joined fiction. When I imagined this absurd situation of asylum seekers from Africa who found themselves stranded on a small Scottish fishing island waiting to find out their , I was a thousand better off imagining that this is what well and truly produced today.

Is the balance between humor and tragedy difficult to create in writing? Do you have any safeguards?

I do not resonate in terms of dosage because, in Limbo, the humor really comes from the characters. I try to imagine how they would react to the situations I imagined and then how to translate it in terms of dialogue but also composition of frames, colors, direction of actors. I never write from my point of view, I never force comedy.


Your film is very reminiscent of Kaurismäki’s cinema. Is this a reference you shared with your cinematographer Nick Cooke?

Not really. Because everything really starts from the script itself and from the continuity of the work that we had already done together with Nick on Pikadero. Rather than relying on references from other films, we tried to extend the style we had created.

What made you want to entrust the central role to Amir el-Masry?

It is the result of a long casting process, all over the world. And great moments of anguish! (laughs) Because time was running out and we couldn’t find it. Suddenly, I started to spend my nights on the Internet trying to find the possible rare pearl. I had a very precise idea of ​​this character and suddenly when Amir’s face appeared on the screen, it was obvious. It was a photo from the series The Night manager. We contacted him the next day and these tests only confirmed this first impression. Amir immediately understood the character and the tone of the film. Then we rehearsed for a long time with him and the other main characters to find the way to play the tone that I had written, between humor and more dramatic moments. I also showed them Pikadero so that they understand the atmosphere I was going to create on screen. The balance of the film is also based on their game. Limbo owes them a lot.

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