Producers: Irune Gurtubai and Angus Lamont    Director: Ben Sharrock     Screenplay: Ben Sharrock    Cast: Amir El-Masry, Vikash Bhai, Ola Orebiyi, Kwabena Ansah, Kenneth Collard, Kais Nashif, Sidse Babett Knudsen and Sanjeev Kohli  Distributor: Focus Features

Grade: B

Tragedy mingles with deadpan humor in Ben Sharrock’s simultaneously droll and moving film about the refugee experience.  “Limbo” is told in a stoic aesthetic that mirrors the stasis in which its dislocated protagonist is trapped.

Omar (Amir El-Masry) has fled the Syrian Civil War; his parents have stayed in Turkey, contributing what they could to his passage to Europe, while his brother Nabil (Kais Nashif) remains in Syria, fighting with the rebels.  Omar is a talented musician—his instrument is the oud, a kind of lute—but during his journey he’s injured his right arm, which is still in a cast.

While awaiting a decision on his application for asylum in England, Omar is placed, along with a few others in his situation, on a sparsely inhabited island off the northwest coast of Scotland.  (The film was shot, quite beautifully by Nick Cooke, on the Uist Islands in the Outer Hebrides, where Andy Drummond’s spare production design seems absolutely right.)  His roommate is soft-spoken, anxious-to-please Afghan Farhad (Vikash Bhai), a long-time resident patiently hoping for admission to England.  Their comrades are two African refugees, Wasef (Ola Orebiyi) and Abedi (Kwabena Ansah), who are taken for brothers though, as will be disclosed, they aren’t actually related.

The four refugees, as well as others on the island, are regular targets of “instruction” by Boris (Kenneth Collard) and Helga (Sidse Babett Knudsen), whose bizarre efforts to teach them how to assimilate variously elicit bewilderment, anger and amusement.

But its focus is on Omar, who’s torn between his ties to his family and homeland and his desire to make a life in England, especially when by converses with his mother on the phone.  He wanders aimlessly, always carrying the oud though never playing it; he interacts with locals, sometimes tensely but often in a friendly fashion.  And he bonds with Farhad, who takes it on himself to serve as his “agent and manager,” and who tries to get the boy to be less gloomy, despite his own profound sadness.

In the final third, “Limbo” loses its balance somewhat.  A subplot involving Farhad’s “kidnapping” of a chicken, which he keeps as a pet named Freddie (after Mercury), is a mite too cute for comfort.  Others, involving Wasef and Abedi, are, by contrast, quite dark and poignant.  One that brings Omar into contact with shopkeeper Vikram (Sanjeev Kohli) melds dry humor and uplift with only partial success.  There’s a magical-realism sequence featuring an apparition of Nabil that, oddly, renders matters all too explicit.  And, finally, Omar’s cast comes off and he gives a recital that

Nonetheless even in these more problematic episodes “Limbo” remains engaging.  Sharrock’s touch is deft—he mitigates Omar’s moroseness with Farhad’s deadpan matter-of-factness, and secures fine performances down the line, even from amateurs.  He also works with Cooke, editors Karel Dolak and Lucia Zucchetti and composer Hutch Demouilpied, along with sound designer Ben Baird, to maintain a lapidary but not ponderous mood.

As the film closes with Omar on yet another of his walks, the framing changes from the boxy ratio it’s embraced until then to widescreen, suggesting his liberation from gloom, however partial.  It’s a telling ending to a bittersweet, semi-absurdist fable of displacement, regret and hopefulness.