Italian director Matteo Garrone’s Io Capitano (Me Captain) is a tale of undocumented immigration to Italy told from the African side. Garrone’s award-winning film from 2023 follows two teenaged cousins who make a perilous journey from Senegal to Italy in search of Europe’s mythical riches.

The crossing is no less than a voyage, filled with obstacles, unforeseen enemies and fabular elements. In one of the most stunning sequences – a rare moment of respite in the midst of escalating anguish – one of the boys has a vision of his mother, floating above the desert sand.

Seydou and Moussa flee Dakar in Senegal despite the stern warnings of their elders. They trek through hard terrain to reach Libya. The movie reveals the well-oiled human smuggling rackets that push impoverished Africans into Europe. From grabby-handed policemen to gangs in prison, the boys have to keep shelling out money to reach Europe – until they can’t.

Io Capitano is available on Prime Video. The Wolof/French-language movie is what Rajkumar Hirani’s Dunki (2023) tried to be: an empathy-laden work of fiction based on actual stories that doesn’t judge the strivers. Io Capitano goes behind the frequently distressing headlines to lay bare the reasons behind high-risk immigration attempts and the networks enabling them.

The 121-minute film is shot in richly saturated colours by cinematographer Paolo Canrera (who also lensed Ramin Bahrani’s The White Tiger). The blindingly bright sun cannot hide the despair faced by the young heroes, nor do the mystical elements distract from the rawness of Garrone’s storytelling. Gripping as well as moving, Io Capitano is anchored by heartfelt performances by Seydou Sarr (as Seydou) and Moustapha Fall (as Moussa).

Io Capitano (2023).