Since Gomorra (2008), which made a strong impression with its choral foray into the popular cities of Naples struggling with the mafia, the cinema of Italian Matteo Garrone has never completely regained such scope. Its tendency, from Reality (2012) to Pinocchio (2019), was more towards hyperbole, an escape towards allegory, even digital bloat. Me Captain – Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival in September –, a variation on the migratory crisis, brings about a return to a widely documented reality, narrating, on the basis of testimonies, the journey of two young Senegalese towards Europe .
Seydou (Seydou Sarr) and Moussa (Moustapha Fall), teenagers and friends, decide to take the plunge. They fly from Dakar, relying on smugglers, but, before reaching Tripoli, lose sight of each other when their convoy is attacked by Libyan mercenaries, a slave mafia. The same brigands will propel an inexperienced Seydou at the head of a boat full of people, swung dangerously towards the Italian coasts.
Me Captain thus intends to reverse the European point of view by adopting that of the migrant, the challenge for Garrone being, first of all, to transport himself to a culture other than his own. He makes Seydou a new Candide, a naive traveler whose illusions collide with the atrocities of the world, minus the irony. Disconcerting is, indeed, the way in which the film embraces this naivety to repaint the migration journey in the colors of the fairy tale. A form for which the filmmaker had already shown his appetite with Tale of Tales (2015) or Pinocchio . However, we could not imagine a more unwelcome register, in that it implies a strong dose of spectacularization and even mythologizing.
Use of the imagination
Carried by an epic breath, the camera caresses with the same aesthetic roundness a forced march in the desert with grazing lights, and a Libyan torture camp where the tortured bodies appear carefully arranged.
Garrone doesn’t shy away from dreaminess either, when, for example, Seydou relieves the agony of a migrant by helping her rise into the air and levitate above the dunes. The recourse to the imagination then serves as an alibi for the misplaced coquetry of the author, who, far from serving his subject, takes pleasure in displaying his desire for poetry.
Seydou gradually enters the story as a positive hero. He only seems elected by the fiction for his meritorious qualities (he works hard as a mason to buy his passage to the Mediterranean, then assumes his responsibilities at sea), to the detriment of all those who fall along the way. Europe will remain off-screen, a false promised land, because the important thing, we are told, is at stake upstream: it is not to lose one’s humanity along the way. Wherever we look, Me Captain thus buries the migratory tragedy under an angelic patina, a gloss of humanitarian publicity that does no justice to anyone.
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