Movie review: 'Io Capitano' takes audience on migrants' harrowing journey

James Verniere, Boston Herald on

Published in Entertainment News

From the great Matteo Garrone (“Gomorrah,” “Pinocchio”) comes Academy Award-nominated International Feature “Io Capitano,” a film that tells a story that is both modern and ancient. It is a tale of an epic journey undertaken by two young men, boys really, named Seydou (Seydou Sarr) and Moussa (Moustapha Fall), from Dakar, Senegal, who dream of traveling from their homeland with little money between them to unimaginably distant Italy, where they might find jobs to help support their mothers and siblings back home. However foolhardy, theirs is a noble quest. But many dangers lie in their path: thieving guides, soldiers, rebels, criminal gangs, the vast Saharan desert, modern-day slavery and the cold and uncaring Mediterranean.

In the hands of Garrone, who co-wrote the screenplay with Massimo Checcerini (Garrone’s “Pinocchio”), Massimo Gaudioso (Garrone’s “Dogman”) and Andrea Tagliaferri (Garrone’s “Tale of Tales”), mythological elements glint jewel-like just beneath the surface of this semi-real-life tale of African migration. The screenplay is based on the true stories of several African migrants, who are listed in the credits as “collaborating writers.”

In Dakar, Seydou and Moussa lug bags of cement for construction sites and save the cash they earn, hiding it under the sandy floor in Seydou’s mother’s house, which he shares with her and several siblings. Happiness and beauty exist in Senegal. Garrone and cinematographer Paolo Carnera (“The White Tiger”) reveal the riches of light and color, beautiful faces, dancing and decorative clothing. Seydou’s family life is happy. But the family lives in a shack, and there is scant future for Seydou’s generation. In most cases, only poverty awaits them, unless they seek opportunity on distant shores.

When his mother hears Seydou speak of migration, she sternly warns him of those who ended up “dead in the desert” or “in the middle of the sea.” Before departing, Seydou and Moussa consult with a holy man and visit their ancestors in a cemetery. They embark in an overloaded bus packed with other travelers with fake passports. They are piled into trucks and driven across the harsh landscape of the Sahara. A rider is thrown out of the truck. The North African driver ignores him, leaving him to die. The travelers are left to walk the remaining miles. Heat-mummified bodies of those who preceded them lie half-covered in sand, dire signs. A miracle seems to happen. A woman who had given up appears to levitate, garments flapping.

Moussa is taken to a Libyan prison. Seydou falls into captivity with the Libyan mafia. When he is unable to provide blackmail money, he is tortured and beaten almost to death. He has a vision of a fairy with wings. Then, an older man with a son Seydou’s age helps him. The two are sold to a Libyan contractor to build a wall and a fountain for a rich homeowner. Seydou searches all over Tripoli for Moussa.

The final stage of the journey will involve a wide crossing over water by dozens, including a woman giving birth, in a large boat piloted by a desperate novice. Garrone, whose live-action “Pinocchio” ranks alongside Guillermo del Toro’s Academy Award-winning stop-motion version, is a master storyteller, whose talent transcends language and borders. Sarr, who won Best Young Actor at the Venice Film Festival, makes you believe that Seydou is the master of his fate and the fates of others. “Io Capitano” is his magical, terrifying adventure.




(In Wolof and French with English subtitles)

Grade: A

MPA rating: not rated (contains profanity and scenes of torture and other extreme violence)

Running time: 2:01

How to watch: Now in theaters


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