© X Verleih AG / Warner Bros. Entertainment GmbH

Ich Capitano (Io Capitano)
Italy/Belgium/France 2023

Opening 4 Apr 2024

Directed by: Matteo Garrone
Writing credits: Matteo Garrone, Massimo Ceccherini, Massimo Gaudioso, Andrea Tagliaferri
Principal actors: Seydou Sarr, Moustapha Fall, Issaka Sawadogo, Oumar Diaw, Bamar Kane

Seydou (Seydou Sarr) and Moussa (Moustapha Fall) are teenaged cousins living in Dakar, Senegal, Africa. They have had enough of sleeping on the floor in a poor country; secretly, they take off for Europe where they expect to become successful pop singers, after having composed one song. They ignore the advice of Sisko (Oumar Diaw), who has experienced Europe, “which is cold, people sleep on the street, and there are thieves.” Moussa is responsible for dealing out their travel money along the way, which brings about a separation between the two boys. Seydou continues on his own, optimistic that they will rejoin. An elderly man, Martin (Issaka Sawadogo), aware of Seydou’s difficulties, takes him on as an apprentice for carpentry and masonry. On the coast of Libya, there is a boat full of refugees on their way to Italy. Who will be the captain?

Senegal is on Africa’s far western border on the Atlantic Ocean. We accompany the boys through Mali, up through Libya, and across the Mediterranean Sea towards Italy. There are various forms of transportation, as well as miles of walking on foot across the Sahara Desert and harrowing experiences in jail, all presented excellently by Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall, in their first film roles. Ich Capitano premiered at the 2023 Venice Film Festival where director Matteo Garrone, drawing partly from real experiences, was awarded the prize for best director and Seydou Saar the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young actor, two of the film’s many awards and nominations. “I am the captain.” is the final sentence in this excellent two-hour film, although I actually expected more than one pop song from the boys. Do you need to know where to keep your money safely? See the film. (Becky Tan)

Second Opinion

What is a dream worth to you? The price of freedom? Two Senegalese cousins eat, sleep, drink, and dream music. Especially pop music, particularly as pop stars. To realize their dream, they also share a plan costing beaucoup de money; they work, usually day-labor jobs after school. Finally, their goal is in sight. Moussa (Moustapha Fall) is itching to go, whereas Seydou (Seydou Saar) frets for his widowed mom (Ndeye Khady Sy) and bevy of sisters. Harsh advice abounds; they are warned off, given stern reality checks—believe it, people in Europe do sleep rough—and get frightening, startling tips about what to expect. Simultaneously, the witch-doctor (or traditional healer, magician, religious leader) and ancestors’ forecast is auspicious. Their hunger to join the bigger world is insatiable. Unbeknownst then to family and friends, Seydou and Moussa leave Dakar behind to begin their quest.

Buoyed by their dream, too soon their naïveté surfaces. Confusion sets in getting passports, then dichotomy flying across the Sahara wedged with other migrants into the dilapidated truck bed, harsh reality at the undertaking’s perilous discrepancies trudging across scorching desert dunes—audiences are treated to a mystical dream scene—into the unimagined cruelties humans inflict on other humans. They are separated. Italy recedes into the North African prison’s foulness. By the grace of Allah, Seydou’s taken under the wing of kindness-incarnate (Issaka Sawadogo). Hope is revived. Moussa must be found. Lastly, there’s a grueling life-threatening sea to cross.

Italian award-winning writer-director Matteo Garrone’s (Dogman, 2018, Gomorrah, 2008) visceral approach is unforgettable—who could not empathize with “Dogman” and recognize his innate goodness. So too is Seydou: whose strong family ties bore patience from so many sisters, whose moral compass fixed by Mama’s strength, integrity, and good nature, because the sixteen-year-old’s instinctual survival response is indicative of the man he is to be.

Paolo Carnera’s spectacularly sweeping cinematography is perspicaciously, intelligently edited by Marco Spoletini imbuing respective balance that furthers Garrone’s capacity for visceral awareness, instead of sensationalism. Adding depth, flavor is Dimitri Capuani’s art direction, Stefano Ciammitti’s costumes, and Andrea Farri’s redolently expressive music. Matteo Garrone won Best Director and UNESCO Award at Venice Film Festival 2024, and Io Capitano is Italy’s submission for the 2024 Best International Film Oscar®. (Marinell Haegelin)

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