Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Io Capitano’ is a Conventional, But Moving Drama

Director: Matteo Garrone
Writers: Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso, Massimo Ceccherini, Andrea Tagliaferri
Stars: Seydou Sarr, Moustapha Fall, Hichem Yacoubi

Synopsis: A Homeric fairy tale that tells the adventurous journey of two young boys, Seydou and Moussa, who leave Dakar to reach Europe.

Io Capitano, the Best International Film-nominated entry from Italy, is finally out in cinemas. Directed by Pinocchio’s Matteo Garrone, the story showcases a harrowing journey as best friends Seydou (Seydou Sarr) and Moussa (Moustapha Fall) leave their stable life in Dakar to chase their dreams in Italy. In one of the most poignant sequences of the film, Seydou’s mother warns him that this dream is futile and he will only put himself in danger if he chooses to go through with his desire to leave Senegal. 

Of course, Seydou and Moussa do not listen to her – or the organizer’s – advice that Europe is nowhere near as magnificent as the films portray it. Not only that, but the journey itself is treacherous, which entails crossing the border with an illegal passport and walking through the Sahara desert to reach Tripoli. If Seydou and Moussa don’t know what they’re doing and don’t have trustworthy connections, a fate worse than death itself may await them. 

However, no matter the dissuasions, the two embark on the long journey to reach the coast of Malta, which the film depicts in a distressing fashion. Predictably, the trip doesn’t go as planned, and the two are eventually separated when the Libyan police catch them. Seydou is sent to an illegal prison run by the mafia and is immediately told by a French intermediary that if he does not give away his phone number, he will be tortured. He does not and suffers greatly as a result. 

Garrone doesn’t hold anything back and shows how difficult the journey for Seydou is, both mentally and physically. As he attempts to rest in his cell, petrified by the pain that’s been inflicted upon him, he imagines himself sending a message to his mother in Dakar to comfort him. This sequence and another in which a woman floats in the sky are Io Capitano at its most lyrical and devastating. Seydou wants his trip to be an idyllic journey to a better world, floating in the sky as they reach Heaven, but it puts him in purgatory, where Heaven is right here, but gets drawn into Hell. 

This visual representation doesn’t happen as often as it should, but it almost doesn’t matter since cinematographer Paolo Carnera crafts a series of striking images that will stay with you long after the credits have ended. It’s almost too disturbing to describe here, but the raw power of Io Capitano mostly lies in its evocative and powerful visuals, which fully represent just how dangerous Seydou and Moussa’s journey is. 

As Seydou and Moussa, both Sarr and Fall are as equally heartbreaking as they are inspiring in their respective turns. At first, Moussa is the big dreamer of the two, convincing Seydou that this is the right thing to do after he experiences second thoughts. But through it all, Seydou will eventually reveal himself as the more courageous and heroic of the two, particularly when he is tasked to transport passengers from Tripoli to Malta on a ship, not knowing how to steer it. One of the film’s most impactful scenes, in which he pleads to a coast guard officer for help, deftly shows Seydou’s transformation from a timid – and scared – boy to a captain who will stop at nothing before everyone is brought to Italy safely. It also helps audiences attach themselves easily to the two characters as their naturalistic approach to acting greatly informs how we perceive the two as they overcome the odds to reach Italy. 

But Garrone and his co-screenwriters Massimo Gaudioso, Massimo Ceccherini, and Andrea Tagliaferi take very few storytelling risks in depicting Seydou and Moussa’s journey. In fact, the story trods the most obvious clichés instead of choosing a more psychologically active depiction of Seydou’s moral quest to find Moussa. Perhaps the filmmakers wanted to choose an easy route for the film to be a crowd-pleaser, but it feels almost too crowd-pleasing, with every single storytelling beat seen a mile away. When Seydou’s mother warns them of the journey, we know exactly what will happen. It also doesn’t help that the film was released a few months after Rajkumar Hirani and Shah Rukh Khan quasi-treated the same story with Dunki, which had a far less conventional – and more engaging – story (but it didn’t have the striking images produced by Carnera). 

The only time Garrone subverts expectations is in its ending, which doesn’t give a “proper” conclusion to Seydou and Moussa’s story. Audiences are left to interpret what they think happened, which may be the least “crowd-pleasing” moment of the whole affair. I feel there was far more to tell in their journey, which seemed like it was just beginning. Perhaps that’s it. Their story is just beginning, and we all witnessed how they created a new chapter in their lives by overcoming adversity and never giving up, no matter the mental and physical cost. 

Grade: B-

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