Caesar Must Die: Tavianis’ Prize-Winner

It’s shocking to realize that Paolo and Vittorio Taviani are in their early 80s.  Back in the late 1970s and 1980s, they represented a major force in world cinema, with such great films as “Padre Padrone,”which won the top award of the 1977 Cannes Film Fest, and “The Night of the Shooting Star,” which won Best Picture from the National Society of Film Critics.

The last two decades, however, have not been particularly fertile for the siblings, and so it’s a pleasure to report that their latest effort, “Caesar Must Die,” a highly original feature in goal and strategy, is a return to form on several levels.

World premiering at the 2012 Berlin Film Fest, where it won the top prize, “Caesar Must Die” will play next month at Toronto and then N.Y. Film Fests, before opening theatrically in early 2013.

Set in the theater of Rome’s Rebibbia Prison, the Taviani brothers’ gritty, semi-documentary tale depicts a performance of Shakespeare’s famous play, “Julius Caesar.” After the applause, the lights dim on the actorsand they go back to being prisoners in their cells.

Six months earlier, the warden and a theater director are seen speaking to the inmates about a new project, the staging of “Julius Caesar”in the prison. The first step is casting, a vivid and energetic process. The second step is exploration of the text.

Shakespeare’s universal language helps the inmate-actors to identify with their characters. The path is long and full of anxiety, hope and play. Complex, often contradictory feelings accompany the inmates at night in their prison cells after each day of rehearsal.

Giovanni plays Caesar, and Salavtore Brutus, but who are they? We are curious to find out for which crimes have they been sentenced to prison?

The play’s wonder and pride in being involved in this honorable project do not free the inmates from the exasperated feelings of being incarcerated. Occasionally, their bursts of temper and angry confrontations put the show in danger.

On the anticipated, feared day of opening night, the large audience is diversified, consisting of inmates, actors, students, directors.  “Julius Caesar” is brought back to life with great success on a stage within a prison, after which the inmates return to their cells.

Cassius, one of the main characters, has been in prison for many years, but tonight his cell feels different and more hostile. Looks into the camera, he notes: “Since I have known art, this cell has turned into a prison.”