Io Capitano movie review & film summary (2024)
Movie Reviews

Io Capitano movie review & film summary (2024)

Cannes darling Matteo Garrone (“Gomorrah“) turns his best intentions towards following two Senegalese immigrants on the dangerous trip across Africa and into Italy. Cousins Seydou (Seydou Sarr) and Moussa (Moustapha Fall) are innocents who are in over their heads from the moment they leave their home in Dakar, falling victim to both human corruption and the indifferent cruelty of nature. Their stated intention in emigrating is to help out their families by earning money in Europe, but there’s an element of headstrong youth as well — Seydou’s mom wants him to stay in Senegal, fearing for his safety if he leaves. She’d rather have her son than the money, she says. He doesn’t listen. 

So many bad things happen to Seydou and Moussa — a sequence set in a North African prison is especially upsetting, but the whole journey is merciless — that any moment of respite is also full of tension, as the viewer waits for more bad things to happen. And usually, they do — until late in the film, when Garrone and his co-writers play with these expectations during a treacherous final journey across the Mediterranean that defies the paint-by-numbers hardship of previous scenes. But even here, tragedy lurks just offscreen. 

The most common pitfall of social dramas like this one is so-called “misery porn,” where a film wallows in the suffering of its characters, usually characters of color, for the edification of a presumed white audience. “Io Capitano” flirts with this at times with long close-ups of Seydou, Moussa, and their fellow migrants’ faces in extreme distress. The sheer volume of these shots becomes numbing after a while. But there is more to the story. 

Along with all the fear and suffering, “Io Capitano” also flirts with magical realism in a way that recalls another drama documenting the migrant experience, Gregory Nava’s luminous “El Norte” (1983). Garrone’s film doesn’t incorporate the style as artfully as Nava’s, however. And its self-consciously artistic cinematography has a National Geographic type of sheen to it, distancing the film from its protagonists rather than elevating their trek to epic proportions. 

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