Dressed in a splendid basin with pink and white stripes, Seydou Sarr goes on stage at the Venice Cinema Palace in tears, Saturday September 9. He has just won the Most Promising Actor Award for his role in the film I, Captain, by Matteo Garrone. The 18-year-old Senegalese is the new revelation of the 80th edition of the Venice Film Festival. Visibly destabilized, he utters a few words: “Thank you, thank you everyone, I am so happy… I have no words. »
A year ago, the actor was still living in Dakar, where, like many of his comrades, “he dreamed of being a footballer,” says his older sister, Ndeye Sarr, interviewed by Le Monde Afrique. He does not plan an artistic career, but is still sensitive to the performing arts: it is the passion of his mother, who taught drama at the cultural center of Thiès, 60 km to the east from Dakar. “He received this gift from our mother,” adds Ndeye Sarr. “She taught me singing and a taste for music. I probably owe him even more than I thought before this award,” the actor confessed to the journalists present at the press conference.
However, Seydou Sarr has never taken any acting lessons when he goes to an audition. An Italian director is looking for non-professionals to star in his next film: it's Matteo Garrone, and he chooses Seydou Sarr.
In what will become Me, Captain, the young man plays a Senegalese illegally migrating to Italy. Alongside Moustapha Fall (who plays the character of Moussa), he encounters the mercilessly hostile desert and smugglers who are no less hostile. On their hellish road, they land in Libya – “You are in Libya, either you have money or you go to prison,” one man informs them –, go through the horror of detention centers and endure the torture.
Discover the world
Seydou and his companion Moussa are not fleeing a civil war. They are simply two young people like so many others who want to discover the world. And become famous rappers: “The white people are going to come and ask us for our autographs,” Seydou tells Moussa. It’s their dream, but once they arrive in Libya, the real trouble begins. The work is based on authentic testimonies and real-life stories. In particular that of Kouassi Pli Adama Mamadou, a young Ivorian who fled to escape hunger and the civil war that tore his country apart until 2011 and who today works as an intercultural mediator in Italy.
However, the odyssey of which Seydou proclaims himself the “captain” goes beyond the documentary, carrying a dimension not devoid of phantasmagorical abstraction, like the epics of ancient Greece told by Homer. This dimension is even taken on by Matteo Garrone, to whom we owe a film adaptation of Pinocchio, in 2019. “There is a lot of Pinocchio in the journey of Seydou and Moussa: they too want to go to what they dream of to be the Land of Toys and will discover, despite themselves, the violence of a world populated by evil predators,” the director told the Italian magazine Ciak.
For Seydou Sarr, the filming was in every way initiatory. If his character has the same name as him, their trajectories have nothing in common. The young actor never considered migrating to Europe and admitted to having previously had “no real awareness of the risks and suffering that such a crossing of the desert and the sea, strewn with atrocities and sordid tragedies, could represent.” . It’s a much clearer path than that of his character which opens up to him after this prize at the Venice Film Festival.