Universal Cinematic Language: Ben Sharrock on Limbo | Interviews

Sharrock spoke with RogerEbert.com about the making of the film, developing his own cinematic language, his influence from Middle Eastern directors, and more. 

How did you want to take on the story of Syrian refugees, especially with all of your research, and then apply it to your visual style? 

The thing was that in the writing, it was hugely challenging. I write the vision of it into the screenplay, so I took a lot of time during the writing of it, and went down a lot of dead ends and had to change my approach. And that’s when there was a huge amount of research in speaking to people who had been through the asylum system and organizations that worked with refugees on a daily basis, and then getting to points and checking the use of humor and checking the use of that absurdity with them. Being like, “Can I use humor here? Is this a good idea?” And throughout that, that came out with a resounding, “Yes, please make a film abut this that uses humor that’s funny and treats the subject with absurdity.” So I think I went through a lot of that with the writing, where I had to build up my own story of authority to tell this story. 

But it’s also interesting I suppose, 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 filmmaking. And part of that is also the humor; the humor as well is Middle Eastern in that sense. When balancing the tone of it, there was a huge amount of pressure, to be careful with that all the way through the process, from the writing into the rehearsals into the shoot itself. Then it was about spending a long time in post making sure that we were getting that right and doing justice to the subject matter, and doing justice to who these characters represent. 

What do you see as realistic or non-realistic about this style of particular blocking and framing? Especially when telling such a human story. 

The films that initially made me want to be a filmmaker were Elia Suleiman’s “The Time That Remains” and around the same time “The Band’s Visit” by Eran Kolirin. I think when I saw those two films I was like, “That’s in me? That’s the way that I see films.” I was like, “I’m going to be a film director.” I write my vision as a director into my screenplays. The screenwriting goes hand in hand with the filmmaking, and it’s also interesting because so far with my films, they kind of touch on this stasis I suppose. The characters are in stasis, and that style of filmmaking really lends itself to that stasis because of the static camera. It’s really starting from a point of that being important to the cinematic language of those films, which happened to be really integral to both “Pikadero” and “Limbo.” The characters are in stasis, but the world’s they’re inhabiting are also in stasis; with “Pikadero” it’s the economic crisis and the the world around them is sort of at a stand still, stuck in time, and obviously with “Limbo” they’re in “Limbo.”

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