Who Is This Movie For?: Our Review of ‘Io Capitano’

Posted in Theatrical by - February 23, 2024
Who Is This Movie For?: Our Review of ‘Io Capitano’

Seydou (Seydou Starr) and Moussa (Moustapha Fall), the protagonists of Matteo Garrone’s new film Io Capitano, are all smiles. During the first of the film’s five unofficial acts, they have happy lives even if they don’t mind having more. More is something they seemingly can’t get in their home country of Senegal but can in Europe, specifically Italy. So smiles it is, until they reach the hardest legs of their journey, which mostly are in the failed Libyan state. When they separate, the film concentrates on Seydou’s part of his story, where making friends (Issaka Sawadogo) is necessary for survival. Life also finds a way to give Seydou more responsibilities and he has to be ready to grow up.

Refugees often flee abuse but Seydou and Moussa aren’t, which gives the film shades of complexity, for better or worse. Seydou only tells his mother about seeing the roofs that are falling apart instead of showing them visually. The film, then, contrasts their full lives with the hardships they encounter at the Libyan chunk of the Sahara desert. Before they leave, a man tells them to smuggle their money in a certain part of their body only for the corrupt Libyan police to know that technique. Regardless, I went into this film wondering why Garrone wanted to tell this story. And as Io Capitano goes into acts depicting Libya, I was wondering for whom Garrone is making this.

While watching Seydou’s life change, we have to consider Io Capitano’s Oscar nomination in context with the Western gaze. This year, most of the nominations for Best Foreign Language Film have European directors depicting most of the world’s corners. Two of the nominees depict historical events while this one is depicting a crisis happening right now. I bring all of this up because the film’s climax takes place in a room where Libyans torture Black people, sometimes to death. It’s the old question of whether or not Black suffering on screen exists for realism or for exploitation. Those scenes are jarring on the big screen but strangely enough, they fly by during my home rewatch.

Regardless, Garrone gets the benefit of the doubt in Io Capitano, which is, after all, a film about teens. By reputation, depicting characters of that demographic is part of his wheelhouse, regardless of what skin colour they have. What makes Seydou a compelling character is that he becomes more compassionate and smart because of what he goes through. People become bitter and selfish after going through less, but instead he stays in Libya hoping to reconnect with Moussa, his cousin. We can write the same thing about him after he becomes the titular captain of a ship. Garrone also gets points for the cinematography here, showing a land and sea that people are crossing for better lives.

Io Capitano is already out in Quebec and will come to more select Canadian theatres this Friday.


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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watches movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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