“Io Capitano” (“I Captain”) directed by Matteo Garrone, is a harrowing yet deeply humanizing portrayal of the Africa-to-Europe migrant experience. It’s a rigorously made cinematic experience that’s also a timely and sensitive handling of a subject that has become a global crisis.
The migrant crisis has been a recurring theme in contemporary cinema, with various filmmakers tackling the subject from different angles. While some films focus on the political aspects, others delve into the human stories behind the headlines. “Io Capitano” is one of the latter.
The film focuses on two young men, Seydou and Moussa (newcomers Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall), who leave their home in Senegal to embark on a perilous journey to Europe. Unlike many films that tackle the subject of migration, “Io Capitano” delves deep into the psychological and emotional toll the journey takes on its characters.
Seydou and Moussa are not just physical bodies moving across a landscape; they are complex individuals with dreams, fears, and families left behind. This narrative depth challenges the often simplified or stereotyped portrayal of migrants in mainstream media, adding layers of complexity to the story.
Both epic and intimate, the storytelling is linear but filled with flashbacks and dream sequences that offer glimpses into the characters’ inner worlds.
The pacing is deliberate, allowing the audience to fully grasp the gravity of each obstacle the protagonists face. The film doesn’t shy away from showing the brutal realities of the journey, including extortion, torture, and near-death experiences, which adds a layer of gritty realism.
Both Seydou and Moussa are well-rounded characters with distinct personalities and motivations. Seydou is the more cautious of the two, often serving as the voice of reason, while Moussa is driven by a sense of adventure and the allure of a better life.
Their relationship serves as the emotional core of the film, and it’s their shared dreams and hardships that make their journey relatable. The use of non-professional actors for these roles adds an element of authenticity that might have been harder to achieve with seasoned actors.
The film’s other star is Paolo Carnera’s stunning cinematography, capturing the vast northern African landscapes and the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean with equal finesse. The visual storytelling complements the narrative, using natural light and minimalistic setups to keep the focus on the characters, while also avoiding the “poverty porn” trap by portraying its subjects with dignity, even in their most vulnerable moments.
One of the notable aspects of the film is the ethical responsibility felt by its director, Matteo Garrone. Being a white Italian, Garrone was aware of the potential pitfalls of telling a story that was not his own. However, his extensive research and the involvement of people who have lived through similar experiences lend the film an authenticity that it might have otherwise lacked. He further emphasized the importance of breaking through European complacency about the crisis.
“Io Capitano” serves as a poignant reminder that behind the headlines and statistics are real people with real stories. It’s a brutal, angry, and grueling drama that forces the audience to confront their own biases and preconceptions about the migrant crisis, challenging the dehumanizing rhetoric often used in political discourse. It’s a film with the potential to shake up the race for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
Shot in Senegal, Italy, and Morocco, “Io Capitano” premiered on September 6 in Venice’s Competition section.
If you appreciate our coverage here and on social media and would like to support us, please consider donating today. Your contribution will help us continue to do our work in coverage of African cinema and, more importantly, grow the platform so that it reaches its potential, and our comprehensive vision for it. Thank you for being so supportive: https://gofund.me/013bc9f2