Universal Cinematic Language: Ben Sharrock on Limbo | Interviews

Sharrock spoke with RogerEbert.com on the making of the film, the development of its own cinematic language, its influence on directors in the Middle East, etc.

How did you want to approach the history of the Syrian refugees, in particular with all your research, and then apply it to your visual style?

The thing is, in writing it was extremely difficult. I’m writing the vision for it in the screenplay, so it took a long time to write it, I stumbled into dead ends and had to change my approach. And that’s when there was a tremendous amount of research to talk to people who had gone through the asylum system and organizations that were working with refugees on a daily basis and then coming to the points and checking the ‘use of humor and checking out the use of that nonsense with them. Say, “Can I use humor here? Is that a good idea?” And all the way through that, it came out with a resounding, “Yes, please make a movie about what uses funny humor and treats the subject with absurdity.” So I think I went through a lot with writing, where I had to build my own authority story to tell that story.

But it’s also interesting I guess, because it’s kind of … I mean Omar is Syrian and a lot of my influences come from Middle Eastern cinema, that’s the root of my cinema. And part of that is humor too; humor is also Middle Eastern in this sense. In balancing the tone, there was tremendous pressure, to be careful with that throughout the whole process, from the writing to the rehearsals to the filming itself. Then it was about spending a lot of time on the job making sure we were doing it right, doing it justice to the subject, and doing justice to who these characters represent.

What do you find realistic or unrealistic about this particular style of blocking and framing? Especially when you’re telling such a human story.

The films that initially made me want to become a filmmaker were Elia Suleiman’s “The Remaining Time” and around the same time “The Group Visit” by Eran Kolirin. I think when I saw those two films, I thought to myself, “Is that in me? This is how I see films. I said to myself, “I’m going to be a director.” I write my vision as a director in my scripts. Writing the script goes hand in hand with making films, and it’s also interesting because so far with my films, they kind of touch that stasis I guess. The characters are in stasis, and this style of cinema really lends itself to that stasis because of the static camera. It’s really from when it matters to the cinematic language of those movies, which turned out to be really integral to both “Pikadero” and “Limbo”. The characters are in stasis, but the world they inhabit is also in stasis; with “Pikadero” it’s the economic crisis and the world around them is sort of still, stuck in time, and obviously with “Limbo”, they are in “Limbo”.

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