The blistering tale of an African’s journey to Europe and a moving film about refugees at Poland’s border, which has angered its government, have tightened the race at the Venice Film Festival.
“Io Capitano”, which premiered on Wednesday, is the latest from Italian director Matteo Garrone, known for his gritty mafia drama “Gomorrah”.
The epic drama follows two naive 16-year-olds who leave Senegal for Europe, only to find themselves robbed, tortured and enslaved along the route, and ultimately aboard a dangerously rickety boat to Italy.
Garrone told reporters he wanted to break through Europeans’ complacency about the migrants arriving by sea.
“For years we’ve seen boats arriving across the Mediterranean — sometimes they are saved, sometimes not,” he said.
“Over time, we’ve gotten used to thinking of these people as numbers and lost sight of the fact that behind the numbers there is a whole world of families, dreams, desires.”
The director said he wanted to “put the camera on the other side — in Africa, pointing towards Europe — to tell their journey and live it with them”.
His film arrived in Venice a day after another powerful drama about migrants, “Green Border”, which focused on refugees trapped between the borders of Belarus and Poland in 2021.
Critics were impressed, with The Guardian calling it a “brutal, angry, gruelling drama, in sombre black and white”.
But it triggered an angry response from her country’s justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who compared it to Nazi propaganda because it criticised Poland.
Its Polish director Agnieszka Holland, 74, told reporters in Venice: “Europe is in the process of losing its convictions.”
“We have to face the real challenge. Europe, the continent of freedom, democracy, human rights, will disappear… It will change to some kind of fortress where people who want to reach our continent will be killed by us, by Europeans,” she said.
– ‘Deep injustice’ –
With the festival ending on Saturday, the two migrant films have complicated the race for the Golden Lion.
Early frontrunners for the top prize included glossy Hollywood fare, such as “Poor Things” with Emma Stone as a sexually voracious reanimated corpse, and “Maestro”, in which Bradley Cooper transforms into legendary conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein.
But the migrant films pack a political punch that could sway the jury, led by Damien Chazelle (“La La Land”), which includes Jane Campion and last year’s winner Laura Poitras.
Garrone pointed out there are many kinds of migration driven by war and desperation but his film focuses on the “young people ready to risk their lives for a better future”.
“This highlights a deep injustice,” he said. “They don’t understand why young people (from Europe) can come on vacation to their country but if they want to go to the West, they face often mortal danger.”
Originally published as Hard-hitting migrant films tighten Venice race