Today’s showcase of films from the Atlanta Film Festival suggest idleness in their titles, but rest assured the stories they tell are moving. The first, Limbo, was originally intended to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival before the festival was cancelled in light of the COVID-19 pandemic while the latter, Landlocked, marks a return to the Atlanta Film Festival for director Timothy Hall, whose previous feature Born River Bye won the Georgia Film Award in 2017.
Omar (Amir El-Masry) is a Syrian refugee living on an island in Scotland, awaiting the processing of his refugee claim. He attends cultural awareness and English classes along with fellow refugees, and this is where he learns that a smile is not an invite for sexual advances and that all of his dreams can come true if he just puts his heart into them… There’s a not so subtle implication that director Ben Sharrock makes that these mandatory classes are condescending and useless.
In its opening scenes and in introducing us to its characters, Limbo makes humor out of the refugees’ circumstance, humor that is delivered in deadpan but soon becomes less and less funny (deliberately) as the story progresses. It is not funny when DVDs of Friends are donated rather than coats. It is not funny when the refugees discuss the idea that they are kept in this state of limbo for the purpose of making them request to return home. Along with muted colors and meticulous framing of his characters, Sharrock and cinematographer Nick Cooke make an impression akin to that of a Roy Andersson film, complete with aimlessness and deadpan.
Omar’s closest friend on the island is fellow refugee Farhad (Vikash Bhai), who dreams of becoming a businessman after his refugee claim is approved. Knowing that Omar is a musician who plays the oud, Farhad appoints himself as Omar’s manager and agent. But since leaving Syria and injuring his hand, Omar doesn’t have a desire in the slightest to play, despite the fact that he used to love performing in front of live audiences. Omar’s disinclination also weighs heavily on him each time he calls his family from the island’s lone phone booth. To be a musician and not play music is to be dead, Omar’s father tells him, and Omar also experiences guilt as his family flees to Istanbul while he is safe within Scotland.
As Omar, Amir El-Masry portrays great sadness, but also great hope in his eyes. Once his cast is no longer needed, we await Omar’s eventual musical performance and hope that music can once again fill his heart with joy, compelling him to persevere through this limbo and make it to better days.
Limbo will be released in theaters this Friday.
As one might expect, a number of films screening at the Atlanta Film Festival feature a tie to Georgia, and in the case of Timothy Hall’s Landlocked, the calling is to St. Simons Island. Nick is estranged from his father. When his mother dies, he only feels that it is right to inform his father, now transgender. Nick’s wife tells him that he should invite his father to take the trip to St. Simons Island to scatter his mother’s ashes in the ocean, since she loved the beach. He doesn’t want to, but he makes the call anyways. When his father, Briana (Delia Kropp), informs him that she does not have a car, meeting to scatter ashes turns into days together on the road.
At this point in Nick’s life, he is preoccupied with trying to open a restaurant. The endeavor is proving challenging since opening the restaurant will require Nick to work long hours and be away from his wife and baby. But, the restaurant is an act of love. The concept of the menu relates to dishes that one’s mother or grandmother might cook for the family. It’s clear that the death of Nick’s mother pains him deeply, and he doesn’t want to be away from his family if he doesn’t have to be. He doesn’t want to be like his father.
Nick & Briana’s road trip to St. Simons Island is awkward, tense, and heartwarming as they become closer to their destination. Having not seen his father since he was a child, and not since her conversion, Nick is meeting Briana for the first time. And Briana is kind, not like his father was. While attaining closure through scattering his mother’s ashes, a new wound is opened as Nick is forced to confront the idea that Briana is not who he thought she would be. When Briana meets Nick’s family over video chat, Nick is then forced to consider the idea of letting Briana be involved in her grandchild’s childhood, even though he’s still upset she wasn’t involved in his.