In This Heroes’ Tale, Real People Risk Their Lives to Get to Europe

At the end of “Io Capitano” (“I Captain”), Matteo Garrone’s harrowing contender for best international film at next month’s Academy Awards, a map tracks the journey taken by the film’s two teenage protagonists: over 3,500 miles from Dakar, Senegal, to Sicily, via the scorching Nigerien desert, horrific Libyan prisons and a nerve-racking Mediterranean crossing aboard a rickety vessel.

Such perilous voyages, taken each year by countless Africans seeking a new life in Europe, is “one of the great dramas of our times,” Garrone said in a recent interview, and “Io Capitano” is framed as an epic, modern-day Odyssey, with protagonists no less valiant than Homer’s hero.

“It’s a journey that’s an archetype so that anyone can identify with it,” said Garrone, who is best known to international audiences for the hyper-realistic 2008 drama “Gomorrah” and his dark and fantastical “Pinocchio” (2019).

“Io Capitano” is also, he said, a “document of contemporary history.” This month alone, over 2,000 people reached European shores by crossing the Mediterranean, while at least 74 died, bringing the number of people who have gone missing in that sea in the last decade to more than 29,000, according to the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency.

Many Europeans learn of these landings, and deaths, from short news segments, often accompanied by clips of lawmakers pledging to stop illegal migration. Garrone’s film, which won the Silver Lion for best directing at last year’s Venice Film Festival, goes beyond the statistics with a plot based on stories of real people crossing the Mediterranean.

Garrone said that the migrants’ stories he heard called to mind the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson and Joseph Conrad.Credit…via Cohen Media Group

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