“You captain”, Why Garrone’s film shouldn’t win an Oscar


LOME', Togo – I was passing through Dakar these past two weeks.

Lots of projects underway but I found the time to go and see Matteo Garrone's latest film, "Me Captain" (…what a title…), which I feared it would be made. It seems like everyone except a very small portion of people liked it. But at the second minute I was already about to leave. I write for the confused ones and for those who think they have cleared their conscience by watching a film which, in my opinion, represents an insult to reality (perhaps one of the many reasons why the director has postponed twice his long waited appearance at the Italian Cultural Institute in Senegal). I don't want to make it too long but I don't want to stay silent either. Here are just some of the criticisms that I hope can be considered “constructive”.

The day before going to the cinema, I had been invited to the Senegalese Navy base in Dakar, behind the "new" train station. It was five in the morning and most of the inhabitants of all ages and genders were already up (many were running) to go to work. It was still dark. In an African capital where you can often order a cocktail for 8 thousand franc CFA ($14) and at the same time the waiter earns 100 thousand a month, the inequalities are logically enormous. In addition to the traditional dance shown in the film, I would have liked to see a greater context of "dakaroise" life. This is why I find it an insult that the sixteen-year-old protagonist (who still offered us – I don't know how much he was paid but I can imagine – a magnificent performance) wakes up "annoyed" by the sun’s rays and wastes time laughing and joking with his family before leaving home.

His desire to leave for Italy is "half-told" to his mother... Again, according to my experience, the "aspiring migrants" in general: either leave saying nothing to the family members or they are clearly pushed by them. I find the middle ground harmful to understand the drama behind what is the “choice” of abandoning your own roots. The character who repairs junk at the market and who is supposed to give information about the trip gets angry and shouts at them to...dissuade them from leaving?? .....I mean, in reality, is those types of characters that give you all the necessary information to convince you to leave because they obviously earn from it.

The figure of the "traditional shaman", probably inserted with great haste, is ridiculous. I imagine there are dozens of anthropologists and scholars, African and non-African, past and present, horrified by how the film chose to portray this kind of situations in such a caricatured way. A “traditional shaman” has an enormous importance and influence on the daily lives of many Africans and to disregard this figure in that way is really offensive if you look it from human perspective.

But here comes one of the worst parts: the bus trip from Dakar to Agadez, over 3,500 km: the film makes it last practically one day. I have made very similar trips and I can assure you that on the road you find: numerous checkpoints, the local security officers insulting you, stealing your money, talking to you for how long they want to, arresting you if you don't behave, and other worse things. Instead, in the film, two soldiers get on the bus only once, make a joke and let the protagonist continue I think... I’m struggling to remember that part.

Furthermore, no migrants pass through the Mali-Niger border to go to Libya. Almost everyone arrives in Bamako, the capital of Mali, goes south-east towards Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, and then reaches Niamey, the capital of Niger, before heading towards Agadez. I traveled Niamey-Agadez by bus twice, the last time in 2015, and there were at least five checkpoints for almost fifteen hours of travel (if all goes well!) and about a thousand kilometers of road. I would gladly take Garrone with me on this sort of trips and see what kind of movie does then. If I think about it further, I feel that I might know exactly why the “bus-ride” was treated and obliterated and distorted in that way, but…that’s another story.

The desert crossing... No migrant goes around the Sahara with a t-shirt and a water bottle. I also doubt that a woman that size could walk for hours in the desert before dying. Instead I saw numerous young people with jackets and backpacks where they put their food and I have in my phone photos of their corpses which remain half-covered by the sand. Finally, that sort of "dream" in which the lady wakes up and starts to fly?......Sorry, I really can’t comment any longer.

Maybe this film will win the Oscar, it's not called "show-BUSINESS" for nothing, we’ve finally learned, but I'm convinced that the victory will come only from the horrible and very important torture scene, a few seconds to shock and impress and show the world what it’s obvious and sad: a “black” man tortured and struggling often seems the only way to win big awards (Amistad, 12 Years a Slave, Music by Prudence, Precious, and the list goes on…). The discussion is complex but, at the same time, very simple. Some friends of mine in Dakar replied to me: “But it's just a movie!” No, wait… Barbie, maybe, it’s just a movie. But “Me Captain”? I don't think this is just a movie. It’s a clear message that confuses minds around the world about a delicate and current issue. …I don't even want to address the series of dialogues made of an absurd "Italian" way of talking.

So, I'm writing this short "personal review" for anyone who felt confused while watching this film. I found it an insult to reality (and fantasy). Many African-Americans like Taraji P. Henson, Viola Davis, Mo’nique, Gabrielle Union are fighting a war for equal opportunity in Hollywood to make sure we begin to see and produce things with a different perspective. We have to reach a more respectful dimension of the human being and, of course, the story behind.

Matteo Fraschini Koffi / Journalist and Writer

Tags: english

Matteo Fraschini Koffi - Giornalista Freelance