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Io Capitano

Io Capitano is the first unmissable film I've seen in 2024

★★★★★ - THE POST

- Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall deliver wonderful performances in Io Capitano. - 

Io Capitano is a journey to a world that runs parallel to the one we know.

No one is sure how many young men and women from West Africa emigrate to Europe every year, but the figure is probably around 450,000. The media and right-wing politicians love to portray this migration as a deluge that is threatening to destroy the European way of life – whatever that is –but the truth is that Africa supplies only about 15% of the world's migrant population, and the majority of African migrants into Europe arrive via legal, agreed routes.

But for the others, the economic and – increasingly – climate refugees, the people-smuggling routes from Senegal, Sudan, Mali and Nigeria are available to anyone who can raise the cash and doesn't yet realise how dangerous those routes are. As one young man in Io Capitano says, if they knew the truth, then no one would put their lives in the hands of the smugglers.

Io Capitano is a film from Matteo Garrone. It has won acclaim all over the world and was nominated for Best International Feature at this month’s Academy Awards. It is easy to see why. I've watched Io Capitano twice now and I don't think I will ever forget some of the moments and scenes here.

Io Capitano opens in Senegal. Seydou and Moussa are teenagers in Dakar. Both boys are hungry to escape to Italy, where they sincerely believe a better life awaits them. Senegal is home to some of the greatest footballers and musicians in the world, but the reality for most young men is a life spent on construction sites or fishing boats.

With forged passports and a few hundred saved dollars, the boys join a group who are being smuggled overland to Libya, before boarding a boat to Sicily. Nothing goes to plan.

The people smuggling business is corrupt from top to bottom. It is run by criminals who treat their charges as commodities to be exploited and then probably discarded. Seydou and Moussa endure robbery, beatings and enslavement. Unspoken, but alluded to, is the fact that Io Capitano is a story of what happens to boys and men on this journey. An equivalent film about the fates of many of the girls and women on these same routes would be unwatchable and probably unmakeable.

And yet, director Matteo Garrone keeps Io Capitano engrossing and hypnotic – from first frame to last. Io Capitano is at least partly about cruelty and exploitation. But – as with Garrone's 2008 masterpiece Gomorrah – there is never anything gratuitous or exploitative here. The opening shots are a family-bound riot of colour, dance, music and laughter, and Garrone, somehow, keeps our memory of those moments intact. I'm not sure I've ever seen a film in which hope and resilience are so palpably present on the screen.

Io Capitano is an astonishing achievement. This is – at times – a tough-to-watch story, but there is something unbreakable and defiantly alive being shown here too.

Garrone coaxes perfect lead performances out of Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall, and is aided by some gorgeous work from veteran cinematographer Paolo Carnera (All Cops Are Bastards) and composer Andrea Farri.

If you don't mind your emotions being put through a wringer and your faith in people being occasionally shattered, then I'd say Io Capitano is the first unmissable film I've seen in 2024.

- Graeme Tuckett, THE POST

Io Capitano is now playing at Light House Cinema Petone & Cuba! 

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