Roberto Benigni on Italy’s Oscar Candidate ‘Io Capitano’



Roberto Benigni, whose film “Life Is Beautiful” won three Oscars in 1999, has come out of the woodwork to support Matteo Garrone’s Golden Globe-nominated “Io Capitano,” which is Italy’s current Oscar candidate for best international feature film.

The revered yet reclusive Italian actor/director, whose most recent big screen role is playing Geppetto in Matteo Garrone’s hit 2019 live-action adaptation of “Pinocchio,” is clearly a big fan of “Io Capitano” (the title translates to “Me Captain”). The movie narrates the Homeric journey of two young African men, Seydou and Moussa, who decide to leave Dakar to reach Europe.

Garrone’s immigration drama realistically depicts their plight through the pitfalls of the desert, the horrors of detention centers in Libya and the dangers of the sea. Variety critic Guy Lodge in his review called “Io Capitano” the director’s “most robust, purely satisfying filmmaking since Garrone’s international breakthrough with ‘Gomorrah’ 15 years ago.” The film, which at Venice won best director and best emerging actor for its co-star Seydou Sarr, is Italy’s strongest Oscar contender in recent memory.

Benigni in his conversation with Matteo Garrone and Seydou Sarr – to which Variety has been given exclusive access – praises “Io Capitano” for harking back to the grand tradition of Italian cinema “that is both Italian and international,” he notes, citing Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica. But also to John Ford “because it’s epic.”

Some edited excerpts below:

Roberto Benigni:

Seydou is like Pinocchio. In your eyes there’s mystery, suffering, hope, adventure and tragedy. You are able to convey all this. And then your dreams, the oneiric element. The film is indeed epic, because, as you said, migrants represent the modern-day odyssey.

When at the end he yells, “Io capitano,” and we understand the title, I fainted from the beauty; the grandeur. He yells it with [such] grandeur. It’s a tragedy, it’s a dream.

Matteo Garrone: That final close-up is truly a gift that Seydou gave to all of us. Imagine a four minute close-up that makes you relive the entire film, the entire journey and all the emotions.

It was important to try to make a film, as you said, from their point of view.

Benigni: As if the film was narrated by him and Moussa.

It’s a film of great power in terms of the imagery

Garrone: It’s also a coming of age movie, and in this it reconnects to “Pinocchio”

Benigni: But also to Huckleberry Finn, to Mark Twain. Yes, it’s a coming-of-age story.

Garrone: He departs as a boy and arrives as a man.

Benigni: When he says, “Io capitano,” he becomes a man.

Garrone: Seydou, what has this experience left you with?

Sarr: It was my first time being in a film. I was very happy to do this film, I had a lot of experiences. This film made me grow, I learned things I didn’t know. It also changed many things in my life.

Courtesy Filmitalia


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