17 May 2024

Io Capitano is an African odyssey that’s simple and real

| Rama Gaind
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migrants on a boat

Io Capitano is an immigration-themed drama told from the perspective of two Senegalese cousins who journey across West Africa to Italy. Photo: Supplied.

Io Capitano is an engrossing, epic drama that needs to be told, centring on two teenagers, Seydou and Moussa, who decide to leave Dakar, Senegal, and make their way to Europe.

Despite being repeatedly warned about the arduous journey, they do this secretly, dreaming of becoming rich and famous in Europe. Seydou and Moussa (played by newcomers Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall) long for a brighter future. Their journey, however, is not as easy as they imagined. All too quickly they are confronted with terror: the obstacles of the Sahara Desert, the vast waters of the Mediterranean, the horrors of detention centres in Libya, and the perils of the open sea.

Capturing the truth of the migrant experience was imperative for Italian director Matteo Garrone because of what he refers to as “the only real epic voyage we have today”.

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It relates to the voyage of immigrants from Africa “who cross through the desert, get put in prison camps, and then have to submit to smugglers to reach their destination by sea”.

“Over the last 15 years, 27,000 people have died trying to make the journey that I show in the movie,” Garrone said.

“We wanted to give a visual form to a part of the journey we don’t see. What pushed me to tell this story was that in Europe this kind of thing happens all the time. We see on the news every day about a new boat of migrants. Sometimes alive, sometimes dead.

”These people often leave their families and take this risk based on their dreams, desires, aspirations and passions. The idea for the movie was to show the parts of this journey that not many people know about. I wanted to give a voice to people who often do not have one and tell the story from their point of view.”

Garrone tells a deeply compassionate story, following it back to its source, by portraying a marvel that many are persuaded of its familiarity under a different light. This was not just a case where boats were coming ashore. He has adopted an opposite approach — and changed the angle that completely turned a viewpoint Europeans were used to seeing — by moving his motion picture lens from Africa to Europe.

A lot of research was done before making the film and there was plenty of material. It’s like making a collage as the screenplay was written with several young people who had lived that experience. Parts of several journeys have been blended, a mix of stories based on real-life experiences, and they have been turned into a single long voyage.

Io Capitano (Me Captain) premiered at the 80th Venice Film Festival last year, where Garrone was awarded the Silver Lion for Best Director, and Seydou Sarr won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor. Having his film nominated for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards earlier this month made him feel “incredibly proud”.

Garrone, a two-time Cannes jury prizewinner, with Reality in 2012 and Gomorrah in 2008, has crafted a suspenseful contemporary odyssey, presenting a perspective far removed from images we generally see in the Western media. At its heart is a captivating performance from newcomer Sarr.

Io Capitano is a powerful and empathetic film that will move and uplift you. The cinematography by Paola Carnerras is excellent as it does a great job of showcasing beauty among the gritty apprehensions of the backdrops. The desert sequences are amazingly shot and absolutely brutal in equal measure.

In recent years, many people have died making this journey, which is a tragedy. Behind every frame of the movie is a true story. Garrone (along with his team) has come from an outside perspective to produce this film and made every effort to put themselves in the shoes of these characters.

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“I immediately understood that the only way to make this film was to do it with them. I trusted them, they trusted me and we made the movie together,” he said.

”All of the non-actors were people who had actually made the journey themselves. I wanted to show the world an authentic version of this story. Sometimes when people tell their stories of how they made it to Europe, people do not believe it. It was very important to be as true and authentic to the story as possible.”

Io Capitano, directed by Matteo Garrone, Rialto Distribution, will screen in cinemas on 28 March

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