Io Capitano (2023)

‘Io Capitano’ puts a human face on migrant crisis

Matteo Garrone’s Oscar-nominated “Io Capitano” could not be more urgent, as the world faces its most dire immigration crisis since World War II. It’s an issue the United States knows all too well, but we are hardly the only nation being overrun by families fleeing war, poverty and ruthless regimes. Europe, too, is being inundated, particularly Garrone’s native Italy, which is where two teenage cousins from Dakar are seeking a better life.

Garrone (“Gomorrah”) chronicles their harrowing journey across the sands and sea separating them from their ultimate destination. Along the way, they will be challenged by myriad hardships from thieves to human traffickers. And death seems to lurk around every corner.

It’s shot like a documentary. And that’s exactly what it feels like as you watch in horror as Seydou (Seydou Sarr) and Moussa (Moustapha Fall) see their dreams turn into nightmares on a 3,500-mile trek wrought with natural and man-made obstacles, not the least of which are the burning-hot sands of the Sahara.

It sounds hopeless. At times it is. But what galvanizes you is the kindness bestowed upon the boys and how they gladly return such favors even when it seems they have no more to give. And Garrone makes certain it all rings true. It’s a remarkable level of verisimilitude enhanced by the entire journey being shot on location, following the same path many have traveled in search of the “promised land” on Western shores.

You could not ask for better traveling companions than Sarr and Fall, two Senegalese teens who’d never acted before. When we first meet their characters in Dakar, they are very much like teens the world over, cocky, feisty and utterly naive. They foolishly believe they have everything carefully plotted out and precise. This confidence will not last long, and the two young actors excel at depicting Seydou and Moussa’s growing disillusionment over each grueling mile.

Accompanying them are real migrants who made the actual journey and whose individual stories aided Garrone and his team in researching and fleshing out their script. What they’ve gleaned is a real eye-opener for those of us quick to condemn the “others” streaming across borders here and abroad. Rather than shun them, you’ll want to embrace them after witnessing all they must endure.

And that’s what makes “Io Capitano” (Italian for “Me Captain”) so vital for these overtly political times. It puts a human face on the refugee crisis, sometimes jarringly, in an attempt to cultivate empathy and compassion for people we are much too quick to vilify.

Movie review

Io Capitano

Rated: Not rated

Cast: Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall

Director: Matteo Garrone

Writer: Matteo Garrone, Massimo Gaudioso,Massimo Ceccherini and Andrea Tagliaferri

Runtime: 122 minutes

Where: In theaters

Grade: B+

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