Norwegian/Trinidadian Drama ‘Limbo’ is an Affecting Tale

Julien Neaves, Caribbean Head Writer

Plot: In the 1970s a Norwegian woman named Sonia moves to Trinidad with her two young children to join her husband Jo, who is working on the Caribbean island as an oil engineer. But the change in environment and the revelation of an earth-shattering secret sends her down a turbulent path of despair and self-discovery.

Background: Veteran Trinidad and Tobago journalist Dominic Kalipersad has been sharing various historical nuggets on his Facebook page and some of those nuggets have been about local film. And it was on those posts that I learned about 2010 drama Limbo, a film by Norwegian director Maria Sødahl and starring Norwegian actors Line Verndal (Sonia) and Henrik Rafaelsen (Jo). According to the ttfilmfestival Sødahl spent a year as a child in Trinidad, which was the inspiration for the movie. The film was shot on the island and featured a mix of international and local cast. As I am always on the look out for Cariwood (Caribbean film) content I decided to give it a looksee.

Review: The acting is easily the strong point of Limbo. Verndal has most of the screen time and she carries the film well. Her transition from fish-out-of-water to emotional wreck to assertive personality is an interesting one. Rafaelsen is okay as Jo and he mostly delivers in the scenes with Verndal and portraying their troubled marriage.

The film also features some relatively familiar Hollywood faces in Australian actor Bryan Brown (Cocktail, F/X and F/X2, Gods of Egypt) and Swedish actress Lena Endre (Kingsman: The Golden Circle, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Master) who play Jo’s fellow engineer Daniel and his socialite wife Charlotte respectively. They both deliver fantastic performances and I especially enjoyed the scenes between Endre’s Charlotte and Verndal’s Sonia. I must also give kudos to young actors Iben Luel Hersoug and Fredrik M Frafjord who are quite believable as Sonia and Jo’s young children.

But I’m a Trini so you know I have to big up (as we say in Trinidad) my local cast. The two standout performances are Michael Cherrie as Jo’s affable co-worker Dexter and Arnold Goindhan as the family gardener Omari. And I can’t say that I am surprised because they are two of the finest actors from the country. Cherrie holds his own in his scenes with the international leads while Goindhan has some really touching scenes with Verndal and some cute scenes with the children. And, to the film’s credit, they subvert the trope of the white woman fetishising the coloured help as we see in The Right & The Wrong (see link below). There are also appearances by local actresses Catherine Emmanuel, Louris Lee Singh, Cecilia Salazar, and Patti Anne Alli to name a few.

I must also praise the film for letting the Trini actors speak with their local accents and in dialect (there are subtitles). There’s a scene where local schoolchildren say “good morning” and the typical Trinidadian sing-song cadence made me smile. And also kudos to the gorgeous cinematography which made the variety of locations (an idyllic beach, an urban street, a palm-lined country road) look lively and enchanting. The movie includes a little calypso, a steelpan scene and some African dancing in the background but it never feels like a tourism ad. There is also an effort made to recreate Trinidad in the 1970s utilising the music of the time, vintage cars and shots of the country’s previous national airline BWIA (it was replaced by Caribbean Airlines in 2006).

The title “limbo” refers both to the traditional Trinidadian dance, where people pass under a low bar without falling down or dislodging it, and to Sonia’s own feeling of being “stuck”. The two come together when we see her doing the limbo in her yard and unsurprisingly falling down in the process. Through her story we get a well-done examination on mental health which I found refreshing.

There is also some craftiness in the writing as well. I thought the film was going all Wide Sargasso Sea but it does its own thing and hit me with a twist I was not expecting. Limbo also ends on an ambiguous note (makes sense given the name) which works for the narrative. In life not everything gets wrapped up in a neat little bow. Sometimes things are left in…wait for it…limbo.

Editor Jules’s Score: 7 out of 10

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Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”.