Latest Posts


(Check out Chris Reed’s Io Capitano movie review. The film is in theaters now. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

Here in the third decade of our 21st century, we face multiple global emergencies, from climate change, armed conflicts, the rise of fascism and nationalism (indelibly linked as they are), huge wealth disparities between nations, and more. Flowing out of many, if not all, of these problems is, in addition, the grave humanitarian crisis born from the increasing flow of refugees. People in search of better opportunities beyond their own borders are prepared to risk it all on the glimmer of a chance that they’ll improve their lives. Too often, however, they die in the attempt.

In his new Oscar nominated film, Io Capitano, Italian director Matteo Garrone (Dogman) turns his attention away from his usual homegrown dramas to more international intrigue. He follows two teenage boys from Senegal, cousins Seydou and Moussa, as they make the incredibly dangerous odyssey across land from Africa’s west coast to the Mediterranean and then by sea to Italy. Along the way, they suffer depredations and other challenges, barely making it out alive. It’s a harrowing, if ultimately rewarding, experience.

Or is it? Garrone keeps that question open. Time and again, he has other characters interrogate the boys’ plans, trying to get them to reconsider whether Europe—which they imagine as a magical dreamland—is really worth the hazards. They’re young, though, and so unwilling to listen. They’ll soon discover for themselves how right their elders were. What we don’t stick around to find out, though, is what happens upon arrival. Those to the north have begun to tire of helping refugees, so we can assume that further obstacles await.

As much as Garrone examines his subjects’ assumptions, he mostly focuses on the friendship, sacrifices, and bravery of all involved. Though he comes from a very different background, he maintains in interviews he has given how important it was that he involve folks who had made this journey, themselves. These include the many non-actors who populate the frame. Above all, he wants to tell the story from the perspective of those traveling. In that, he succeeds.

His two leads, Seydou Sarr (Seydou) and Moustapha Fall (Moussa), both shine in their roles, portraying a friendship that never collapses, no matter what. Though many of the adult men they meet treat them horribly, stealing from or beating them (or worse), there are also kind souls who help, among them Martin (Issaka Sawadogo, Yo Mama), a gentle father trapped, at one point, in the same prison as Seydou, whose efforts save the teenager’s life. Others from the Senegalese community in Libya, where the boys end up before the final stage of the trip, provide assistance, too.

The title comes from what happens in the last 20 minutes, when Seydou is forced to pilot the overcrowded boat that takes his fellow travelers from Tripoli to Sicily. The Libyan mafiosi who insist he get in the captain’s cabin do so because they need a minor in that seat in case things go south. As scary as this must be for Seydou, this final section is actually less terrifying than what has come before.

Viewer beware: images of mutilated and tortured Black bodies assault our senses. Do we need to see this? It certainly helps raise the stakes, but it’s not pleasant to watch. This is the only time where Garrone’s mise-en-scène feels like a misstep. Otherwise, Io Capitano delivers the cinematic goods. The final extended shot of Seydou’s face as he celebrates what he has just done is a master class in acting and (lack of) editing, the camera holding for minutes on the many mixed emotions the exhausted young man feels. Has it all been worth it? Probably not, but for now, at least, everyone is safe.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

Matteo Garrone; Io Capitano

Liked it? Take a second to support Hammer to Nail on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

Post a Comment

Website branding logosWebsite branding logos