Io Capitano


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Seydou (Seydou Sarr) with Moussa (Moustapha Fall) crossing the desert
"First-timer Sarr - who is a musician - is a remarkable lead and matched by the support from fellow novice Fall."

The migrant dream slips slowly into a nightmare Matteo Garrone’s drama, which takes us on a Continent-crossing odyssey. Although sometimes the tone veers widely from one extreme to another, this is nevertheless a compelling addition to a burgeoning library of dramas concerning the migrant/refugee experience, including Brandt Anderson’s The Strangers Case and Agnieszka Holland’s searing Green Border, in the past 12 months alone.

It begins full of the hopefulness of cousins Seydou (Seydou Sarr) and Moussa (Moustapha Fall) as they prepare to leave Senegal for what they firmly believe will be a better life in Europe. Shot with colour and verve by cinematographer Paolo Carnera the optimism of the boys is contagious, even as warnings from Seydou’s mother (Khady Sy) will come to echo through the rest of the film. The mood is, initially, that of a road trip - which, of course, to the boys it is. The lighting, in particular, is beautifully rendered throughout, even when the lads find themselves in the direst of circumstances.

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The optimism of Seydou and Moussa is quickly tempered as they realise the money they have carefully saved may not stretch as far as they had hoped. Everyone is looking to extract it for them, whether it’s for fake passports or, indeed, to ignore the fact that passports are fake. Soon it’s not just money that becomes a concern but life itself, as they face an arduous trek on foot across the desert. But for all that brutality becomes a constant companion - and later scenes in a prison are just about as horrific as it is possible to get - Garrone always keeps one eye on glimmers of humanity the pair encounter on the way.

The mixing of fantastical elements within all of this, including an out-of-body experience in the desert often feels at odds with the realism of the film in general. It’s not that Garrone slips from one mood to another but that he does so in such swingeing movements, something that has been a bit of a hallmark of his career.

First-timer Sarr - who is a musician - is a remarkable lead and matched by the support from fellow novice Fall. They have the open freshness of a summer morning, which makes the gradual tarnishing of their sweetness all the more unbearable. This may be a fairy tale, of sorts, in Garrone’s hands, complete with all manner of monsters and wolves but whether Seydou gets his happy ever after is left for us to decide.

Reviewed on: 09 Mar 2024
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Two Senegalese teenagers try to realise their dream of a new life in Europe.

Director: Matteo Garrone

Writer: Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, Massimo Ceccherini, Andrea Tagliaferri, Nicola Di Robilant, Chiara Leonardi

Starring: Affif Ben Badra, Hichem Yacoubi, Joseph Beddelem, Bamar Kane, Oumar Diaw, Mariam Kaba, Princess Erika, Taha Benaim, Seydou Sarr, Flaure B.B. Kabore, Beatrice Gnonko, Jackie Zappa, Emilie Adams, Bidar Abdelahad, Observateur Ebène

Year: 2023

Runtime: 121 minutes

Country: Italy, Belgium, France

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