In the award-winning film Limbo, Ben Sharrock delivers a wry and poignant story about four refugees from around the world brought together on a remote Scottish Island to wait for their residency petitions to be reviewed. Omar (Amir El-Masry), a Syrian oud player, has moved to the UK while his family waits in Turkey while their Syrian homeland is engulfed in conflict. Alongside him are Farhad (Vikash Bhai) who hails from Afghanistan and feels a profound connection to Freddie Mercury, and brothers from Nigeria, Wasef (Ola Orebiyi) and Abedi (Kwabena Ansah), who debate old episodes of Friends to resolve their personal conflicts. Strangers in a strange land, these four bond as they try to make sense of the thick local accent, the grey and rainy weather, and their uncertain future. “I have honestly never cried and laughed before reading a script,” remembers El-Masry. “I’ve never seen the refugee crisis told in this way, so heart-warming and funny and accessible to everyone.” Through his own cinematic alchemy, writer/director Sharrock transforms his characters’ alienation and loneliness into a series of comedic events that allow audiences to empathize with their plight. As The List notes, Limbo “wins you over with the sheer strength of its humanity, as it encourages us to see people for all that they were and still can be.”
With Limbo coming to theaters, we want to celebrate its unique ability to express our shared humanity by highlighting other films that explore similar territory. Whether it be friendships forged in foreign lands or people struggling to find their identity in a new world, these remarkable films reflect how sharing our differences can be the very thing that shows us how similar we really are.
Boogie | Caught between Taiwan and America
In Eddie Huang’s Boogie, Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi) is a teenager caught between two worlds. His Taiwanese-born parents (Perry Yung and Pamelyn Chee) want him to follow the strict sense of duty they grew up with, a cultural obligation that neither his best friend, Richie (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), nor his girlfriend, Eleanor (Taylour Paige), fully understand. As much as he wants to honor his family's traditions, Boogie also wants to carve out a path for himself as a teenager growing up in New York City. For Huang, “This film is really about this conundrum: We immigrate from East Asia to America, and the way we run our families, the way we run our societies is almost completely opposite to America. So as a kid coming of age in America, you have to ask yourself some very difficult questions. I know my parents do things this way, my culture does things this way, but what choices would I make?" While Huang drew from his own experience, the story, according to Takahashi, speaks to many others. "Boogie highlights the dynamic of what an Asian American experience can be in this country," he says. "The movie brings together a lot of different people and gives voice to those who normally wouldn’t have a voice.”
Lost in Translation | Foreign influences
In Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, two Americans — a young woman, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and fading movie star, Bob (Bill Murray) — find each other while staying at the Park Hyatt Tokyo. In writing the film, Coppola used the limbo she felt about her own life to propel the story. “I was in this stage where I wasn’t sure if I’d made the right choices,” explains Coppola. “I was looking a lot at the idea of being connected because at that moment, I wasn’t.” For her characters, Tokyo provides both the real and metaphorical backdrop to their sense of alienation and empathy. “It is this experience that Coppola so beautifully captures in her film,” remarks novelist Jonathan Burnham Schwartz, who’d lived in Tokyo for several years. "In this most strange and crowded and foreign of cities, one’s heart is at the same time inexplicably free and open in a way that it is perhaps nowhere else.”
Sin Nombre | Fellow travelers
In Cary Fukunaga’s debut feature Sin Nombre, two characters — one escaping an old life and one seeking a new one — connect on a train headed for the United States. After being forced to kill a member of his brutal gang, El Casper (Edgar Flores) flees from his home on the Mexico/Guatemala border. Sayra (Paulina Gaitán) is traveling with her uncle and father from her village in Honduras to relatives living in New Jersey. On a freight train headed north, El Casper and Sayra forge a fragile bond based on their mutual hope for a better future. In "an epic and edge-of the-seat thriller," notes USA Today, "The course of their entwined lives is fascinating, sometimes tragic and always unpredictable.” To experience the real dangers faced by those riding the rails, from raids by rival gangs to police violence, Fukunaga rode an immigrant train, getting to know firsthand the limbo immigrants travel through to realize their dreams. "I had to go that much further to find out details to make sure that I was representing something as close as an outsider could," explains Fukunaga.
Half Brothers | Extended family
Luke Greenfield’s comedy Half Brothers began with the producer and screenwriter Eduardo Cisneros wondering how he might describe his divided life growing up in Mexico and living in America. “I began to imagine a father trying to explain to his adult children all the things that he couldn’t fully explain when they were kids.” In the film, two siblings from opposite sides of the border — Renato (Luis Gerardo Méndez) and Asher (Connor Del Rio) — are forced by their dying father, Flavio (Juan Pablo Espinosa), to take a road trip to get to know each other. Beyond the hilarious hijinks that ensue as the two men, who have nothing in common, try to connect, their journey points towards a solution to our own cultural conflicts. “We wanted to create a vehicle to speak about the differences between Mexicans and Americans,” explains Méndez, “but also to talk about the things that make us, in a sense, half brothers.”
Victoria & Abdul | Kindred spirits
Loosely based on a real story, Stephen Frears’s Victoria & Abdul recounts the unexpected and poignant relationship that developed between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and a prison clerk from Agra, Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), who traveled to London to present the monarch with a small token for her Golden Jubilee in 1887. Mistrusted by the court and the Queen's family, Abdul nevertheless finds a place in the Queen's heart, eventually becoming her Munshi, or spiritual teacher. Entertainment Weekly points out, "It’s not hard to understand why his kindness and open-hearted curiosity captivated a woman starving for human connection." While these two could not be more different in terms of cultural identity and social standing, their mutual loneliness brought them together. For Fazal, "It was essentially two people just trying to have a conversation and talk and share things."