Io Capitano (2023)

Io Capitano directed by Matteo Garrone is an empathetic, award-winning migrant story.

The Longest Journey

by Alexa Dalby

Io Capitano

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Io Capitano is a harrowing film told from the point of view of two Senegalese teenagers who run away in secret to reach Europe, a trek to the promised land that so many have undertaken, both successfully and tragically unsuccessfully. Director Matteo Garrone (Dogman), known for his unflinching take on the Mafia, is so empathetic about the hardships of African migrants that it is hard to believe that he is European and not African.

Seydou (Seydou Sarr, who received a Best Actor award in Venice) and his cousin Moussa (Moustapha Fall) have faces shining with optimism and no warning they are given not to do it can dim their hopes of a new life. For them it starts as almost a big adventure because they do not comprehend the danger.

But along the difficult and long journey, they are ripped off by gangs of traffickers, have to walk across the Sahara, held hostage by the Libyan mafia, tortured and imprisoned in Libya and forced into a stereotypically unseaworthy, overcrowded vessel to cross to Sicily, like so many others before them. They want to be treated like any other traveller with the right to travel. But instead…

Seydou’s life is saved in Libya by Martin (Issaka Sawadogo). Together they build the madness of a fountain in the desert, which wins them freedom from slavery.

A script consultant on the film was Mamadou Kouassi who made the same journey himself, from Côte d’Ivoire. The film was inspired by his life and brutal three-year journey. He hopes it will help the wider public understand the realities of what migrants arriving in Europe go through. “A lot of people just see the boats arriving. They don’t see the journey they have had before that,” he says. “I have to let people know what happened to me and what is happening to people every day.”

The hell of the long journey is broken up by scenes of magical realism that prevent it being unbearable. But it is still a hard watch, particularly knowing that these painful journeys are still being undertaken, hopefully or desperately.

Io Capitano won Garrone a Silver Lion for best director at Venice Film Festival as well as the best young actor prize for Seydou Sarr and is released on 5 April 2024 in the UK.

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