I Captain – Review

  • Matteo Garrone claims a front-line role for cinematographic language in narrating migrants, through an introspective approach that challenges television reporting (but also certain simplifications of politics).
  • Io Capitano focuses on the reasons for the journey and its human implications, following the classic scheme of the Bildungsroman.
  • The approach is correct and even courageous, however the film sacrifices emotions on the altar of rigor, missing the opportunity to truly strike at the heart.

I Captain - Review


Behind an operation like I Captain , one immediately grasps the intent to remove the narration of migrants from the exclusive perimeter of the television report , which almost always takes on quantitative accents (the number of deaths, the statistics on landings) but forgets to explore the human nature of these stories, the cultural motivations of the phenomenon beyond the economic aspect, the identity of immigrants before leaving their country of origin, their real perception of the West.

This is an ambition shared with other recent works dedicated to the drama of illegal immigrants, primarily Tolo Tolo , Flee and Europa: films where cinematic language is exaggerated in different ways to reflect the intimate dimension of the characters, focusing first and foremost on people and not just bodies.

The african dream

In Matteo Garrone’s latest film, the humanistic (as well as humanitarian) interest towards the characters of Seydou and Moussa is identified with the choice to make any reasoning about traffickers or the theme of reception implicit, preferring a perspective that is more attentive to reasons for the trip and its repercussions . I captainhe takes the risk of showing a poor but happy Senegal, not torn apart by wars, famines and social conflicts. A world where the warmth of the family clashes with the loneliness of migrants and the music in the air sharpens the silences of the crossing along the Sahara; on the other hand, even from a formal point of view the land of origin is tinged with suggestions, sounds and oversaturated colors capable of diluting the misery of its inhabitants. So why do the two boys leave? Couldn’t they get “help at home” and spend the dollars they earned differently to pay human traffickers?

No, because The Captain tells the story of two normal sixteen-year-olds, with the same myths and aspirations as their peers: these are precluded dreams for those who live in degradation outside Europe but still suffer the influence, lure and fascination of similar cultural models. In fact, Seydou and Moussa feed themselves on YouTube and plan an existence as pop stars in the “new world”, where they imagine themselves signing autographs for white kids. Unlike the choiceless journey of many desperate migrants, theirs is more like those coming-of-age stories in which you start with a bit of naivety and end up full of bitterness. Garrone, in short, shifts the reflection to the level of values ​​by examining the right of young Africans to claim equal opportunities, despite being born on the wrong side of the globe. Indeed, precisely for that reason.

The cinematography of the film is very rich and saturated, as usual in Matteo Garrone’s films.

Presented as a contemporary rereading of the Odyssey , Io Capitano actually establishes numerous correspondences with a work already brought to the screen by the Roman director in 2019: Pinocchio ( Score: 7.5 – Review). The puppet’s aspiration to transform into a real child is in fact reflected in the migrants’ dream of “fulfilling themselves” elsewhere, finding countless versions of the cat and the fox on the way to an illusory toyland (the Italian coasts). Furthermore, lies are scattered throughout the film: from the one mockingly contained in the title to Seydou and Moussa’s secret plan to leave Senegal, passing through the false reassurances of the human traffickers. In short, this comparison with Collodi’s novel serves to place the film in the domain of the “coming of an age”, using archetypes shared with the public to broaden the gaze beyond the news.

2 + 2 = 5

In general, the plan followed by the author of Gomorrah appears correct, rigorous and even audacious in his attempt to tell the dreams of illegal immigrants beyond the struggle for survival, responding with introspection to the simplifications of certain populist rhetoric; all this planning, however, ends up taking away a bit of urgency and spontaneity from the film, also because the interest in the characters often seems more intellectual than empathetic: to avoid sentimentality or the use of a blackmail staging, I Captain in fact sacrifices some too much emotion on the altar of drynessand dampens the few (beautiful) dreamlike digressions with an excess of rigor. As the minutes pass, the account of the trip flattens out without offering new glimpses of reality or truly disturbing the audience.

Seydou’s parable tells of the transition from an individualistic logic to the need to take responsibility for others.

Without taking anything away from a couple of very successful sequences, such as the night crossing in the Sahara desert in which the bodies of migrants become dehumanized shadows, the somewhat hasty look at the various chapters of the tragedy, the didactic register of the dialogues and the absence of a real sense of threat despite the horrors of the journey. A little more real cinema would have been needed to redeem the narrative on the landings from the flattening of the television debate and it is surprising that the author best suited to the purpose did not completely succeed, crushed by the magnitude of his task . Garrone dedicated the Silver Lion for best director to those who didn’t make it in the Mediterranean; perhaps a film about them would have been more up his alley.


After Pinocchio, Garrone takes another unsolicited step back to humbly place himself at the service of the narrative, however leaving us orphans of his gaze once again. Instead, the same audacity of The Embalmer, First Love or Gomorrah would have been needed to witness the obsession of the two young protagonists towards dreams that become nightmares and all the horror of a world where purity is deformed into cruelty, themes traditionally dear to the director Roman although declined here too hastily. The choice to explain the journey as a search for emancipation and not a simple escape for survival (through a tragic rereading of the Bildungsroman) opens a new front in the narrative on migrants, but it soon ends up swallowed up by the logic of the mere report where the dreamlike element gives way to a somewhat didactic exposition. I Captain remains a necessary film yet incapable of opening our eyes and shaking us as it intended.


by Abdullah Sam
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