Io Capitano – movie review

Two teenage boys from Dakar in Senegal dream of moving to Europe to pursue a music career in Io Capitano. This harrowing drama is from Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone, who in 2008 gave us the hard-hitting Mafia drama Gomorrah. Written by Garrone, Massimo Gaudiosio, Massimo Checcherini and Andrea Tagliaferri, the film has been largely inspired by the actual firsthand stories of African migrants trying to escape poverty and corruption to find a better life in Europe.

For six months cousins Seydou (Seydou Sarr) and Moussa (Moustapha Fall) have been saving the money they have earned from working part-time so that they can buy passage to Europe and become rap stars. They keep their plans secret from their families although Seydou tests the waters with his mother (Khady Sy), who warns him that many people have died while attempting the journey. Undeterred, they finally head off, leaving their crowded house in the middle of the night. But they find that their early sense of excitement and optimism quickly sours as their trip becomes a harrowing nightmare.

Using false passports, the pair pass through Mali and into neighbouring Niger. They have to bribe a policeman when the forged passports are revealed. They join a group of other migrants heading to Libya on a crowded truck. The trek becomes more fraught with danger when they are caught by a rebel group, who shake them down. Moussa has hidden his money and is whisked off to prison. Meanwhile Seydou is taken into Libya. He and his fellow migrants are imprisoned by a rebel group who demand ransom from their families. Seydou is then sold into servitude. He eventually earns his freedom and arrives in Tripoli where he searches for Moussa amongst the diaspora of Senegalese communities.

Finally, the pair end up on an overcrowded rust bucket of a boat to sail across the vast Mediterranean and face an uncertain future upon arrival in Italy.

The film is at times a touch melodramatic, but Garrone ratchets up the tension nicely. Io Capitano was superbly shot by cinematographer Paolo Carnera (Bad Tales) who captures the stark beauty of the desert landscapes, which creates a vivid contrast to the scenes of everyday life in the boys’ hometown. Despite the grim journey and the horrors that the boys encounter, Garrone infuses the film with some optimistic moments. He also injects several touches of fantasy into the narrative, which help to lighten the tone.

Both young stars make their film debuts here but bring an authenticity to their roles. Sarr, local Tik Tok star and rapper, brings strength, resilience and dignity to his mature and emotionally demanding performance and he makes us care about the character and his fate.

Greg King

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