Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone's best-known works have focused on austere yet authentic portrayals of Italian society, including crime dramas Gomorrah (2008) and Dogman (2018), as well as the filmmaker's singular take on Pinocchio (2019). However, his latest film, Io Capitano, harkens back to his earliest work, the 1996 immigration docudrama Terra di mezzo, albeit from a new perspective.
"I chose Dogman and Pinocchio, but Io Capitano chose me," Garrone says. "I put the service of the story in the hands of the people who usually don't have a voice. I had the idea to take a reverse shot of what we are used to seeing, so I put the camera on the other side and tried to tell the story from their point of view. I also decided to do that in a language I didn't know."
Io Capitano is a Homeric fairy tale about two Senegalese boys who risk their lives on a perilous journey from their homes in Dakar to Italy. Eight years in the making and shot in Senegal, Italy, and Morocco, the film is inspired by the experiences of real-life immigrants who have made the treacherous journey themselves.
When Io Capitano debuted at the 80th Venice International Film Festival, Garrone was awarded the Silver Lion for Best Director, while star Seydou Sarr won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor. At the 96th Oscars, Io Capitano is nominated for Best International Feature Film — Garrone's first nomination.
"When you make a movie, the most important thing is reaching the most people," he says of the nomination. "Because of the nomination, Io Capitano has been rereleased in Italy, and it will be released in 20 countries in Africa, which is very unusual. Also, because of that, they will see what the risk is when making this journey."
As different as Garrone's features have been, they all strive to capture reality and present it in a new and unique way. Below, he shares with A.frame five of the films that have most inspired his filmic sensibilities, including the two masters of Italian neorealism that he most admires.
Directed by: Roberto Rossellini | Written by: Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini and Rod E. Geiger
Io Capitano is connected to the great master of neorealism, Roberto Rossellini. I love Paisan. It has an approach that is very realistic, but at the same time, it brings the audience into another dimension. Fellini started with Rossellini — he was his assistant and co-wrote Paisan — and Fellini used to say that Rossellini could make a scene from something happening in front of him and, with a touch of magic, change the real things happening into another dimension: The dimension of art. That transfiguration is exactly what Fellini did later on with his own work. Both of them were very careful to watch the reality, take a lot of documentation from it, and transform it into their own visionary dimension.
Directed by: Federico Fellini | Written by: Ennio Flaiano, Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli and Brunello Rondi
For Rossellini, Paisan was one of the best examples of the use of that transformation. For Fellini, it would be 8½, which is about a director who is struggling with creativity. With Fellini and Rossellini, it is always challenging to choose a favorite work. As Italian filmmakers, we have been so lucky to have grown up with such great masters. We always dream of creating a bridge with our tradition and trying to make movies that can recreate that link.
When I was 20, I was an extra for one month in Fellini's last film, The Voice of the Moon, which starred Roberto Benigni, and then I directed Benigni in Pinocchio. Last year, I watched The Voice of the Moon for the first time in 30 years, but I was only looking at the extras to see if I saw me, and finally, I found myself. Roberto Benigni said, "We are not just in the same movie. We are actors in the same Fellini movie."
Directed by: Jean Vigo | Written by: Jean Vigo and Albert Riéra
A director who is very important to me is French filmmaker Jean Vigo. Before he died, he only made two movies, Zéro de conduite and L'Atalante. As a director, he is anarchy. His style is completely free, and it's what I would consider to be pure cinema. Vigo is realistic, but at the same time, visionary, abstract, and poetic. For me, his work is always a reference to the possibility you have with expression in cinema, and L'Atalante is an excellent example of that.
Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky | Written by: Andrei Konchalovsky and Andrei Tarkovsky
In moments when I have not been sure about myself, a movie that has been very helpful for me is Andrei Rublev. It's biographical and loosely based on the life of Rublev, an iconic 15th-century Russian painter. The center of the movie is the sense of what art means to an artist, because in the film, he stops painting but then starts again. When I was in crisis, I used to watch Andrei Rublev and found it very helpful.
Directed by: Edward Sedgwick and Buster Keaton | Written by: Clyde Bruckman and Lew Lipton
Keaton is another incredible filmmaker who was so spontaneous and instinctive, and he invented things on the set. That is a part that I feel is very close to my approach, so I can really relate to it. I need to be on the set to have an idea. Keaton was very instinctive and very poetic, and it is tough to pick just one of his films, but The Cameraman is my favorite.