MediaFilm ReviewsIO CAPITANO by Matteo Garrone, SIGNIS Prize Venice 2023

IO CAPITANO by Matteo Garrone, SIGNIS Prize Venice 2023

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.

IO CAPITANO. Starring: Seydou Starr, Moustapha Fall. Directed by Matteo Garrone. Rated MA15+. Restricted. (Strong themes and violence). 122 min.

Review by Peter Sheehan, Associate of Jesuit Media Australia

The film is an uplifting tale of two young boys, Seydou (Seydou Starr) and Moussa (Moustapha Fall), who desperately want to escape from the challenges they face daily in Dakar, Senegal. They both want to escape to 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, Matteo 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 SIGNIS Jury at the Venice International Film Festival. Matteo 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 – with great spontaneity. The film accentuates, in particular, the authenticity of risky journeying, and it 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 very 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, as Director, 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, very well acted, and directed commandingly by Garrone.

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 very well, and received multiple awards in Venice for doing so.

Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of Jesuit Media


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