This past week, I watched LIMBO and PROFILE in the same day and was struck by how differently these films depict Middle East representation in cinema. On one hand there is PROFILE, a film that uses social media to tell the story of a British reporter that gets in over her head while investigating the tactics of an ISIS recruiter in Syria. Told solely through Skype and a laptop screen (similar to the film SEARCHING), this film represents the outsized, problematic focus Hollywood has placed on focusing on the terrorism narrative when it comes to Middle East.
As much as I hate to admit it, PROFILE is engrossing. It is one of those movies that kept my attention and didn’t bore me into phone breaks. But moments in the film left a bad taste in my mouth, and I have been having problems reconciling the film’s ultimate takeaway. In particular, I was really taken aback that the film included a quick cut to footage from James Foley’s assassination video, a heartwrenching shot of him in an orange jumpsuit before being killed. Of course there was nothing graphic in the clip, but I question the decision to perpetuate the use of such horrific imagery from a real-life tragedy.
I am not surprised that PROFILE, which began hitting the film festival circuit in 2018, was scheduled to come out three years ago because it feels stuck in a dated narrative. At that time, the media’s focus was on ISIS’s caliphate in Iraq and Syria, and rightfully so. But after almost 20 years of “timely” (note the sarcasm) terrorism-focused movies, I am ready to see films like LIMBO, which tell a different side of the Arab experience.
LIMBO represents the beautiful stories that can still be told from the backdrop of current events, narratives that instead celebrate Arab culture and family without reinforcing negative Islamic stereotypes. It is an insightful and engaging look at the refugee experience, told through the experience of a Syrian immigrant. With a bit of an offbeat, and at times whimsical tone, this film is not your typical fish-out-of-water story, but more a love letter to the immigrant and human experience, showing who we are is not determined by territorial borders.
The story follows Omar, a Syrian refugee who is living alone on a Scottish island, waiting for papers that will enable him to get work. Omar is a musician, who is known for his proficiency on the oud. But ever since coming to Scotland, he hasn’t had it in him to play. Omar is not only having problems assimilating to his new environment, but also is struggling with the people he left behind. His family parted ways after leaving Syria due to the civil war, with the other part of his family now residing in Turkey; his brother decided to stay in Syria to fight with the opposition.
Omar makes the trek to a telephone booth in the middle of nowhere each week to check in on his parents and see if they have any news on his brother. It is in these phone calls that we come face-to-face with the conflict surrounding the refugee experience, including separation from your family and homeland, internal conflict over whether you should have stayed, and forced assimilation into a foreign, unforgiving culture. But LIMBO shows us that despite these circumstances, there is hope. Omar’s journey to finding the strength to play music again shows that he can preserve and promote his culture and heritage to a new country through the music he loves.
What PROFILE has in a tired narrative and ick factor, LIMBO makes up for with beautiful storytelling, cinematography, and heart. I hope audiences, particularly those of Arab heritage, are able to see more movies like LIMBO, portraying the beauty and history of Arab culture instead of references to terrorism. Come on, Hollywood. We can do better.
As of April 30, both films are only available in theaters.
My Review: PROFILE (C-); LIMBO (B)