THE STORY – Tells the story of the adventurous journey of Seydou and Moussa, two young men who leave Dakar to make their way to Europe. A contemporary Odyssey through the dangers of the desert, the horrors of the detention centers in Libya and the perils of the sea.
THE CAST – Seydou Sarr, Moustapha Fall, Issaka Sawagodo, Hichem Yacoubi, Doodou Sagna, Khady Sy, Bamar Kane & Cheick Oumar Diaw
THE TEAM – Matteo Garrone (Director/Writer), Massimo Gaudioso, Massimo Ceccherini & Andrea Tagliaferri (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 121 Minutes
The journey to seek a better life is often seen as a moving tale to witness. On the surface, it provides a clear goal for characters to attach themselves to and gives the story clear stakes with an easily defined destination. Buried within this operation is often a more thematically resonant perspective that can bring a necessary commentary to an important subject. For “Io Capitano,” the topic at hand speaks to both a harrowing excursion that comments directly on an experience many find themselves enduring in the modern age. It renders this venture with a mostly compelling atmosphere, if not consistently so.
The film sets out to tell a familiar tale of immigrants looking to pursue a richer life in another country. For Seydou (Seydou Sarr) and his cousin Moussa (Moustapha Fall), this means leaving their home in Senegal to pursue a new existence in Europe. They are constantly told not to take this trip, given the inherent dangers involved and no guarantee that an improved status will even be reachable. Despite the warning, the two sneak off to begin this new chapter. However, they soon come to realize that the situation is more than they bargained for. The attempts to find safe passage are constantly thwarted as they encounter greedy traffickers and brutal natural conditions. Eventually, the two are separated, and Seydou ends up in a Libyan prison. He soon makes his way out of this barbaric position, where circumstances lead him to pilot a boat that will take a large group to Italy. He is hesitant to receive such responsibility, but he is determined to ensure his leadership will mean safe passage for those onboard.
Director Matteo Garrone seems to operate in either one of two moods. The stories he creates are either gritty examinations tethered to reality or fantastical worlds with a highly creative aesthetic. Clearly, this piece leans more heavily on the former and is a very effective presentation of a traumatic enterprise. The cruelty can be unrelenting but also appropriate to convey the harsh status these two young men find themselves in. It’s meant to communicate a callous and often inhumane procedure that disturbs one deeply to the core. There are flashes of the more outlandish imagery that seep through, and one wishes Garrone had indulged in this slightly more to break up the horrific monotony. However, he supplants that with a more optimistic spirit that propels the finale. A steadfast goal to maintain humanity leads to a potent result.
Still, the conceived narrative does not have much nuance beneath the surface. It’s a very simple tale that offers no complexity with the thematic exploration or the exhibition of its characters. This is particularly felt in the first act when the set-up for the foundation indulges in tedious and laborious pacing. The storytelling aims for simplicity, but the episodic nature of its structure leaves the momentum at an odd rhythm. Despite the striking and captivating sequences of dire events, the script’s decision to placate flat characterizations keeps one from investing in the material entirely.
Both Sarr and Fall make for engaging personalities to follow, though the former undoubtedly is the one to take up the mantle of the bigger role. As such, he manages to create an empathetic personality that is easy to find an emotional connection with. The torture he endures is achingly shown, and the cathartic uplift he presents in the face of insurmountable odds is also engrossing. It’s a fine turn, aided by the endearing chemistry he has with Fall, to impart this lovable friendship. Fall doesn’t have as many opportunities to shine as Sarr does, but he’s a worthy addition all the same and delivers an appealing performance.
For much of “Io Capitano,” one is gripped by the depiction of a deplorable trek that so many people find themselves forced into making. The filmmaking showcases this process in all its brutality but does so in an authentic and powerfully moving approach. This doesn’t quite compensate for the weaker storytelling and thinly designed characters, but at least the performances go a long way to help, too. At the end of the day, this is an imperfect but still enthralling ordeal that sadly mirrors far too many other similar incidents in today’s age.