Io capitano [Me Captain], is Matteo Garrone’s powerful film about the odyssey of migrants. The movie won the Silver Lion at Venice and was chosen to represent Italy at the Oscars. In the film, there is a scene that has remained engraved in the eyes and hearts of viewers. This clip shows a “flying woman” who appears to the protagonist, the very young Senegalese Seydou Sarr, who is set on a journey through the Sahara desert with other desperate people determined to reach Libya to board barges bound for Europe. This woman actually died of exhaustion and was left in the desert, among the other corpses, by the ruthless slaver who drives migrants out to sea and never looks back. However, Seydou, who had tried to help her, imagines seeing her twirl lightly in the air to banish from himself the horror of that journey punctuated with danger, violence, and death.
From film to life. That woman, whose name is Béatrice, is Ivorian. After having known hell just like her character in the movie, she now lives near Rome, in Fregene, in Garrone’s mother’s house. She has the prospect of finding a job. This is the small yet great “miracle” accomplished by the film that the Roman director made by collecting the true stories of those who had risked their lives to have a better future on our Continent. In addition, among the protagonists of these stories, not all conclude with successful conclusion, while many women who leave are young or old, illiterate or schooled, and often pregnant.
How did you meet Béatrice?
I had cast her in Morocco with other extras, which as a group was made up of people who had actually faced the crossing. She had also started the journey on foot, then was stranded in the desert after watching her companions die of hardship. After the film was finished, I invited her to the Venice Film Festival along with the other members of the cast. Béatrice wanted to stay in Italy, so my mother took her in, and then she took steps to be able to do so legally. Her testimony was very important to me.
What else did you discover from the African womens’ stories?
That many of them had been raped during the journey. My consultants, whom were people who often knew the facts from having experienced them firsthand, revealed to me that in the desert, every so often, the jeep carrying the migrants would stop and the driver would choose one or two women to rape. Then he would start again and, after a few kilometers, the horror would repeat itself. By the end of the journey, almost all of them had been abused.
Why does “Me Captain” not talk about this additional atrocity?
To tell the truth, I regret that I did not include the rape episode. I didn’t do so at the time because I feared it might be pushing beyond the boundaries of credibility in the film, which, is otherwise full of ultra-dramatic moments, as it tells an already gruesome reality.
Do many pregnant women face the crossing?
Yes, and they leave despite their condition. This was confirmed by Fofana Amara, the 15-year-old from Guinea who inspired my film because ten years before he had been forced by boatmen to sail a boat with 250 migrants on board, without even knowing how to swim. As soon as he arrived in the port in Sicily, he was thrown in jail for six months. He recounted how he had stopped the boat and called for rescue to save a woman who was about to give birth, risking her own life and that of her baby.
Another striking character in the film is Seydou’s mother, who is against her son's departure. Do many African women have the same response as her?
Yes, they know the dangers of the journey and do not want to risk losing their children. Seydou, after all, does not come from absolute poverty but belongs to a family living in what could be described as modest. Seydou wants to go to Europe for the sake of adventure, to have new opportunities, to break through as a musician. It is the dream that drove us, at his age, to America with the difference that we were allowed to travel while they are prevented. So, yes, in Africa there are many mothers just like Seydou’s.
How do they feel about that?
They favor the idea of their children having a better future and promote family collections to get the smartest one to leave, who will be able to fend for himself despite the dangers they will encounter.
The film has been met with exceptional success with the film going public and has been bought for screening throughout the world. How do you explain this?
I think it reaches the hearts of viewers of all ages, occupations, and degrees of knowledge of the issue. The film tells a universal and emotionally engaging story of a boy chasing a dream. The film is also about a tragedy that people think they know about but through the film, they will be able to experience it from the inside. It applies to the whole world.
Can cinema, in your opinion, influence public opinion in spite of the rejection of migrants expressed by some politicians?
I do not know if my film can change things but it can certainly raise people's awareness and convince them that behind the “phenomenon” of landings, beyond the numbers about migrants to which we have become addicted to by the news, there are human beings, dreams and desires. Wanting to deny them is the great injustice that I wanted to denounce.
You showed your film to Pope Francis. What do you recall from meeting him?
The Holy Father's way of seeing things, goes straight to the heart of the matter. In addition, his ability to put people at their ease. After we talked for a while, I had the impression that I had known him all my life. Pope Francis said that the images of the film seemed very intense to him and he spoke of epochal drama. I think he understood my desire to be a conduit to give voice to the migrants whom he himself called contemporary heroes.
Matteo Garrone, are you a believer?
Yes, I am.
Beyond the awards, the box office, the Oscar nomination, what are you most proud of?
Of having done my part to expose a deeply unjust system that prevents thousands of people from pursuing their dreams, who are trying to improve their quality of life or expand their horizons. It is as if I have made the journey with my characters, with the same anger and hope.
by Gloria Satta
Through migrants’ eyes
Me Captain, directed by Matteo Garrone, deals with African emigration to Europe and is inspired by the true stories of some teenagers. The film follows, reading it as a journey of formation, the story of two Senegalese teenage cousins called Seydou and Moussa, who aspire to live in Europe. Therefore, against their mother’s wishes, they leave home and confront crossing the desert that is dotted with the corpses of those who did not make it, the horrors of prisons in Libya, and the dangerous crossing in the Mediterranean Sea. The story is told from their point of view. They are not fleeing misery or war; they leave, and they show themselves to be happy about it, because they aspire to a better life. Then will come pain, despondency, and despair. As in a contemporary Odyssey, hope will ultimately return. The hero-captain is Seydou: when the hard and risky times come and everything looks black, instead of thinking only of his own survival or his own gain, he takes charge of his fellow travelers, and leads them to their destination. Matteo Garrone, director of Gomorra, Pinocchio, Dogman, and The Tale of Tales, set out to listen to those who had faced the terrible journey and collected their stories. The film - in Wolof language (a language spoken in Senegal, Mauritania, and the Gambia, and the native language of the Wolof people) - about migrants and the ability and freedom to dream.