Io Capitano | Picturehouse Recommends

Matteo Garrone's powerfully moving Academy Award nominee paints a vivid portrait of the migrant crisis, anchored by two outstanding debut performances.

Hanna Flint

02 Apr 24

Matteo Garrone

Release Date
5 April


Seydou Sarr, Moustapha Fall


Running Time
122 mins

Io Capitano captures the heroic journey of two adventurous teens crossing vast seas of sand and water to achieve their dreams.

In Dakar, Senegal, Seydou (Seydou Sarr) and his cousin, Moussa (Moustapha Fall), are willing to leave their loving families and travel to Europe to see their musical pursuits come to fruition. Harsh reality collides with youthful ambition in two-time BAFTA-nominee Matteo Garrone's powerfully moving drama, which has earned worldwide acclaim since it premiered at the 80th Venice Film Festival.

This poignant epic won the Silver Lion for Garrone's compelling direction and Best Young Actor for Sarr's performance. It also competed for Best International Feature at this year's Academy Awards – the first Oscar nomination for one of cinema's most exciting filmmakers.

Garrone's big-screen forays into crime (Gomorrah), fantasy (Pinocchio) and comedy (Reality) have produced critical hit after hit. Now he has turned to the real-life stories of migrants searching for a better life in this tale of hope and resilience. He worked with many script consultants who have made this journey themselves to ensure the story's authenticity, and on a visit to a refugee shelter in Sicily, the filmmaker heard the striking story of a 15-year-old boy tasked with steering a boat carrying 250 people across the Mediterranean, despite having no navigation skills. It's a dangerous ploy used by people smugglers to avoid facing Italian prosecution themselves, leaving the refugee "captains" at the mercy of the Italian courts, and it was this boy's story that inspired the film's title.

Yet this cinematic voyage begins long before the eponymous "io capitano" sets sail. It offers "a reverse shot of what we are used to seeing," says Garrone, so audiences get a better understanding of the lives led by those ready to risk it all for the promise of a better future. "We are used to having the camera in Europe, watching people arriving over the sea, sometimes alive, sometimes dead. I wanted to show the part we should know about but don't," he says.

From the vibrant culture of Senegal through the Sahara desert and into the treacherous Libyan underworld, Garrone paints a nerve-wracking portrait of the migrant crisis via a coming-of-age tale anchored by two outstanding debut performances. Sarr and Fall show a winning combination of raw earnestness and affecting depth as Seydou and Moussa's trip becomes a perilous adventure.

"They want to travel and know the world – just like we do," says Garrone. "They see people their age travelling from France to Senegal and they don't understand why they are not allowed to do the same thing, heading the other way. The story of that kind of migration is not very much told in films."

It's not often told with such seamless flourishes of cinematography, either. Deadline's Damon Wise says the cinematography captures the boys' dangerous journey across the Sahara "with stunning, immersive immediacy".

Even at its most visually sublime and in moments of despair, Garrone always remembers the optimistic soul of its lead. "There are small triumphs and warm kindnesses that provide glimmers of hope for humanity," enthuses IndieWire's Leila Latif.

In these uncertain times, Seydou's defiant endurance is certainly a balm to behold and Io Capitano is an against-the-odds epic to leave audiences in awe of the human spirit.   Hanna Flint

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Io Capitano is in cinemas from 5 April Book Now!