Io Capitano: Movie review

Bramwel Oloo
Bramwel Oloo

Io capitano (‘I Captain’ in Italian) is a 2023 drama film directed by Matteo Garrone from a screenplay written by Garrone with Massimo Gaudioso, and Andrea Tagliaferri. 

The film, an international co-production between Italy, Belgium and France, is based on an original idea by Garrone, inspired by actual stories of migrants’ African routes to Europe

Filming took place in Senegal, Morocco and Italy.

Few migrant dramas are as stirring, humane and suspenseful as this one, about the treacherous journey of a 16-year-old boy as he leaves Senegal in search of a better life.

Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah) won the award for best director at the 2023 Venice Film Festival for the film, and his non-professional star, Seydou Sarr, won best young actor as the fictional Seydou, a gentle boy determined to make it to Italy along with his cousin, Moussa. 

Each stage of the boys’ travels presents a different danger. The migrant travelling group consists of many women and young children who set out across the Sahara, and when one woman dies from exhaustion, Seydou sees her gliding through the air, as if the reality is too much to take in. 

And death of some of the migrants is not even the end of it.

In Libya, Seydou and some other migrants are imprisoned and even tortured in jail.

Further along the journey, the migrants are also held in captivity for ransom at some point with families at home forced to pay for their release. The inmates with specialized skills are also forced into servitude in posh estates. 

After supporting himself by working in construction for a period of time, Seydou finally locates Moussa. Moussa had escaped from jail but was shot in the leg while doing so. Moussa’s leg is temporarily stabilized, but his need for advanced medical care puts further pressure on Seydou to resume the journey to Europe. They turn to a fixer, Ahmed, who organizes the crossings in the Mediterranean Sea.

In the final stages, Seydou must however pilot a boat full of migrants toward Italy, giving the film its title, Io Capitano (I Captain). 

Not having enough money, they are offered only one option: Seydou will have to drive the boat himself. Ahmed instructs Seydou on how to steer the vehicle and navigate with a compass.

Despite a grueling journey, Seydou manages to pilot the boat and all of the passengers to Sicily. Mere miles offshore from Sicily, the boat is intercepted by an Italian coast guard helicopter. Despite the jubilation of Seydou and the boat’s passengers, they now face an uncertain future in the hands of the Italian government.

With relatively few words, Garrone and Sarr create an eloquent, piercingly real film about one person, whose story resonates with the situation of millions around the world.

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