Celebrate the Cinematic Achievement of Io Capitano

February 23, 2024

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4 stars

Sixteen-year-old cousins Seydou and Moussa (Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall) have a dream. They want to leave their homeland of Senegal and go to Europe. Unlike a lot of immigrant stories, theirs doesn’t start with the crushing poverty of their home life or their desperate need to make a better life for the ones they are leaving behind. While it may not look like much to outsiders, their life with their family and friends is happy and healthy. Sure, it could be better, which might happen eventually, but they are leaving because, like many people worldwide, they want to be famous. They’ve seen the opulent lifestyle videos of the rich and famous, stare in wonder at the well-heeled TikTok influencers, and become convinced it’s all waiting for them.

They just have to get to Europe. And if they had any inkling of what they would have to go through to get there, they’d never have left Senegal.

Watching what they endure throughout their journey is gutwrenching. And it’s not just the beatings, abuse, and torture that’s heaped upon them; it’s knowing in your heart as you watch that even if they survive to get to Europe, there will be nothing there waiting for them. There won’t be an influencer on the dock holding a mimosa while his crew of flunkies films him on their phones. No media mogul with a recording contract. If they are lucky, nobody will be there, so they can land and start the next leg of their journey unmolested. In our world, though, a world they know nothing about, chances are they’ll be arrested, imprisoned, detained, and sent back the way they came.

What happens to Seydou and Moussa doesn’t need to be spelled out in a review; reading about it as a thing in the past and watching it happen before your eyes are two very different experiences, and nobody who wasn’t beside them all the way deserves the easy way out. 

Everybody who helped make Io Capitano deserves the support of watching it on the biggest screen possible. The acting by Sarr and Fall is fantastic, and the way director Matteo Garrone (Gomorrah) pulls you into their story and refuses to let you look away for even a second is fascinating (especially on the second viewing). For how he makes the dessert look so beautiful yet ominous, cinematographer Paolo Carnera (The White Tiger) should be up there with his peers on the list for an Oscar this year; he is not. 

 Io Capitano is a great movie; more importantly, it’s essential for the times. You can turn on the news – and not just Fox – any time of the day and hear the American or European side of the immigration debate. The voices of the people trying to emigrate are seldom heard or listened to. So, the next time anybody starts to talk with you negatively about immigration, building walls, or putting barbed wires across river crossings, don’t get into an argument or even a discussion until they’ve seen  Io Capitano.


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