sat 20/07/2024

Io Capitano review - gripping odyssey from Senegal to Italy | reviews, news & interviews

Io Capitano review - gripping odyssey from Senegal to Italy

Io Capitano review - gripping odyssey from Senegal to Italy

Matteo Garrone's Oscar-nominated drama of two teenage boys pursuing their dream

Now, voyager: Seydou Sarr at the helm on a voyage through hell

Io Capitano works on several levels. At first glance, it’s a ripping yarn – two optimistic Senegalese teenagers embark on a dangerous journey, across the Sahara, through the hell of Libya and on to an overcrowded boat across the Mediterranean – all inspired by the lads’ dream of Europe. 

It could be watched as a terrific, occasionally terrifying adventure movie, but its Italian director, Matteo Garrone, has greater ambitions. Flights of fantasy (pictured below) are occasionally woven into the naturalistic action. In interviews, Garrone has described Io Capitano as Homeric in its ambitions, and he’s certainly achieved a mythic quality with this beautifully photographed film.  We first meet cousins Seydou (Seydou Sarr) and Moussa (Moustapha Fall) living a precarious life in Dakar. Seydar shares a tiny house with his widowed mother and younger brothers and sisters. He and Moussa scrape together a living on local building sites, aiming to save enough money to leave for Europe. 

They have naive dreams of becoming famous musicians and sending money home to their families. Cash buys them forged passports on the black market and places on an open-backed truck. The vehicle is overloaded with desperate migrants and driven across the desert at great speed by people-smugglers with guns. When one migrant accidentally falls off, the truck just goes faster, much to Seydou’s horror.

It’s only the beginning of several nightmarish scenarios: a long march in the roasting heat across the dunes in Niger where a woman dies of exhaustion; then an encounter with rebels in Libya who demand the migrants give up their valuables and demand their relatives details so they can hold them ransom.

The boys are separated and Moussa is tortured, while another imprisoned migrant takes Seydou under his wing and helps him get work as an indentured labourer for a rich Libyan. The final leg of the boys’ journey is based on the real-life account of a 15-year-old boy who was coerced by people smugglers into steering a crowded boat through dangerous seas.

Garrone is renowned for his bleakly acerbic portraits of underdog life in Italy with award-winning films such as Gomorrah and Dogman. This is the first time he’s worked outside of his homeland. Io Capitano benefits hugely from his collaboration on the script and on the set with migrants from Africa who told him their own stories, advised on authenticity, and also worked as extras and actors.

Recent years have seen superb cinematic portraits of the migrant experience in Europe (particularly Saint Omer, Tori and Lokita, and the forthcoming Green Border), but Io Capitano gives us the most vivid rendering of the perilous journey itself and is all the more valuable for it. 

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