In Berlin for a while, everyone talked about Caesar must die, a historical and literary reenactment filmed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani in superb documentary style–but it’s a feature film documenting a jail bound theater production.
The Tavianis (Padre Padrone, Kaos), who are now in their eighties, entered a high-security prison near Rome to film a production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” Mixing footage of the final production with audition reels and quasi-staged rehearsals in various prison locales, the Tavianis have found an intimate, elegant and profoundly moving way to reinterpret Shakespeare’s political tragedy. The production the prisoner-actors take part in is translated into various Italian dialects, but the best subtitle choice seem to be modern English, which doesn’t detract significantly from the play’s power. The audition and rehearsal scenes are rendered in luminous black and white, an artistic choice suited both to the sparse interiors and to the incredibly expressive faces of the prisoners, some of whom are serving for Mafia-related crimes, a few with life sentences. At the press conference, the directors explained that the inmates all gave their real names and addresses (a formality that is shown in the audition reel), despite knowing the film was going to be seen by the public.
I called the film quasi-documentary because the Tavianis have cheated just a little bit. The film’s Brutus is Salvatore Striano, an ex-con who returned to prison to play this role. Not that the audience feels this lack of authenticity. If anything, Striano contributes much of the fury, passion and pain that make Caesar Must Die so compelling.