I captain, Matteo Garrone: “Migrants are heroes, their journey is the new Odyssey”

The director of the Oscar-nominated film: “Freedom cannot be given up, a film will not stop those who leave”

The hope is that “my actors can continue to do this job, to act wherever they want, in Italy, in France, where the best offers will arrive”. Meanwhile three of the protagonists of ‘I Captain’, the film designated by Italy for the Oscar race for a year they have found hospitality in Fregene, with the director’s mother Matteo Garrone. “My mother is very happy to have them, the two protagonists and a friend of theirs are staying with her, who had a small part in the film”, assures Garrone himself in a long conversation with AdnKronos, describing an almost ‘real’ sequel to his film, Silver Lion in Venice.

The film tells the story of a journey of two 16-year-old cousins, Seydou and Moussa, migrants from Senegal to the Sicilian coast, after an odyssey between the Sahara desert and Libyan concentration camps, the two young people are played on the big screen by Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall , two actors who speak Wolof, the language of that country and are now hosted in the director’s family home, just outside Rome.

Garrone laughs: “I called my mother and told her that another person was also added, a woman from the film who told me she didn’t know where to go…”. “Moustapha is a TikTok champion, he does his own dances in the garden, my mother enjoys playing solitaire with cards, they go well together”, says the 55-year-old filmmaker. Meanwhile, Garrone travels around Italy to present the film, waiting to fly to the United States in a few weeks, where the Oscar race begins.

“What I have told is an adventure, there is a lot of action. But it is a coming-of-age film, because the protagonist starts out as a boy and ends up as a man. The real story from which I start reminds me of the great sea novels, by Stevenson, by Conrad, by Jack London. And I didn’t want to betray the story they told me”, underlines the director of ‘Gomorrah’. Filming started in Dakar, Senegal, then the crew shot mainly in Morocco, reconstructing the hell of the desert and the Libyan concentration camps there. “Dakar – explains the director of Gomorra – is a bit like Italy in the 1950s, before the economic boom, an Italy where there was still poverty, but the sense of family and bonds was strong and there it was a great vital charge.”

“They don’t leave a place of desperation, they don’t necessarily escape from the war, maybe they even chase dreams and desires that are then denied”, he adds, referring to a “feeling that all of us have had too, the right to freedom”. The film stops in front of the coast of Lampedusa, with the 250 migrants now safe, thanks to the ‘Captain’, after a wandering through unimaginable violence (“violence that I tell through Saydou’s eyes, without lingering in scenes that cannot be represented , like the ones they told me”, underlines the filmmaker).

“I – explains Garrone – wanted to make known what happens before the landing in Europe, the journey into the desert and the violence. What then happens in Italy, in Europe, in Germany, in France, could be the subject of another film, but I often change dimensions, I worked for three years on this film…”, he says still taking a breath, in view of upcoming takes and important appointments, which are not just the Oscar. “In the meantime, let’s also see what reception the film will have in Africa, where it is about to be released, for example in mid-December in Senegal, we will see how the kids of that place will react, perhaps the film will be helpful as a warning not to take those extreme risks, even if in reality I don’t think they will stop in front of these images…”, is his belief.

“After having saved 250 people, this 16-year-old whose story I am telling ended up in prison – says the director, taking up the thread of the real plot from which he was inspired – he spent six months in prison. There are many fake smugglers who have ended up in prison, but scapegoats are often looked for, while the real human traffickers do not risk their lives on those boats that easily sink.” Matteo Garrone tells a story that he defines as “the new contemporary epic, the new Odyssey, a journey of heroes, people that we should welcome as such, applauding them and with music, because it is truly something heroic to have succeeded in the undertaking”.

But his point of view, he explains, is that of someone who “points the camera from Africa towards Italy”. A narrative that no one should exploit. Pope Francis wanted to see the film: “It was something born from the fact that Cardinal Zuppi saw the film before it came out, and loved it very much, then also Cardinal Mendoza, head of Culture in the Vatican, wanted to see it, they talked about it to the pontiff, and Pope Francis decided on his own to have a screening in the Vatican, so it’s something that comes from them.”

“The Pope – continues Garrone – has always been very sensitive to these issues, he has always been on the side of migrants, he welcomed us and watched the film, also for this reason I think it was easier not to be exploited”. “Now however the film is nominated for an Oscar for Italy”, concludes the director underlining that the film in Los Angeles will represent all of our cinema and also our country. (by Francesco Saita)