Io Capitano

Director: Matteo Garrone
Starring: Seydou Sarr, Moustapha Fall
Distributor: Rialto Distribution
Runtime: 122 mins. Reviewed in Mar 2024
Reviewer: Peter W Sheehan
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Strong themes and violence

This dramatic, subtitled film recounts the adventures and challenges faced by two African teenage boys who – against the advice of parents – decide to journey together from Senegal to Europe to escape from their a of poverty and disadvantage.

The film is an uplifting tale of two young boys, Seydou (Sarr) and Moussa (Fall), who desperately want to escape from the challenges they face daily in Dakar, Senegal and find hope and freedom in Europe. The film is a multinational co-production from Italy, Belgium and France and is based on an original idea of director Garrone. Dialogue is in French and Wolof (a widely spoken language in Senegal), and is subtitled in English.

The film was Italy’s official submission for the Best International Feature film in the 2024 Academy Awards, and it received the Award for Best Film in 2023 by the Ecumenical Jury at the Venice International Film Festival. Garrone also won the Silver Lion for Best Direction at the Festival in Venice.

The film’s plotline is inspired from actual stories of the experience of migrants, who regularly undertake the hazardous journey from Africa to Europe to escape from extreme poverty. The film was shot in Senegal, Morocco and Italy.

Seydou and Moussa travel on false passports which are discovered. They are separated and Seydou is tortured, but manages to escape. The boys reunite in Tripoli, and resume their journey. Under duress, Seydou manages to steer a boatload of emigrant escapees to safety.

The film is a story of hope and survival across incredible landscapes, and communicates a wide range of emotions – from debased levels of humanity to the heights of joy. The film authentically depicts the risky journeying, and freely uses fantasy and fable to accentuate its dramatic effects. One of the emigrants, for instance, is photographed continuing her journey dressed colourfully, while flying happily aloft through the clouds.

This is a film that gives a human face to the migrant crisis, and it conveys migrant hopes and dreams in a personal way. Rarely does the movie move outside the experience of the risk-takers which powerfully reinforces the authenticity of migrant experience, and the film never lets the viewer forget that the migrant’s journey is fuelled by optimism, despite its risks. Garrone is always conscious that a crisis is being under-taken. Not uncharacteristic of him, the film shows violent scenes, which at times are not for the faint-hearted. The film is visually impressive, well acted, and commandingly directed.

Reflecting its cultural significance, the theme of ‘migrant experience’ was a recurring one among the films in major competition at the 2023 Venice Film Festival. Io Capitano has captured that theme well, and received multiple awards in Venice for doing so.

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