by George Wolf
The destination may be Italy, but the Oscar-nominated Io Capitano unfolds like a classic Greek fable. Director and co-writer Matteo Garrone crafts a stirring and often gut-wrenching modern Homeric tale, with a young African refugee enduring multiple hardships while refusing to surrender his character or humanity.
16 year-old Seydou (Seydou Sarr) and his cousin Moussa (Moustapha Fall) have been planning for months to leave their home in Senegal for the hope of a better life in Europe. The locals warn against the dangerous trip, and Seydou’s mother (Ndeye Khady Sy) forbids it, but the boys take the stash of money they’ve been saving and head out in secret.
The journey will not be kind. From Niger to Libya to the unforgiving Sahara (presented with breathtaking scope) and beyond, the boys will face shakedowns, bribes, arrest and torture, while subtle twists of fate conspire with glimpses of human kindness to keep them moving forward.
Sarr is absolutely terrific in a highly emotional and physical role, allowing Garrone (Dogman. Gomorrah) to strategically build empathy for the young man and his mission. With brutality all around him, Seydou must ultimately defend his humanity with stirring defiance, cementing his standing as a true and just wanderer.
But though Seydou’s odyssey may have a classic structure, the subtext here is never in doubt. Io Capitano succeeds on both fronts, bringing stark intimacy to the global refugee crisis, along with realization that stories can often speak so much more clearly than statistics.