Opening 27 Dec 2012
In Rome’s high security Rebibbia Prison, the inmates welcomed the opportunity to perform plays under theater director Fabio Cavalli. Two seasoned Italian directors, the Taviani brothers: Vittorio and Paolo, age 81 and 83 respectively, suggested that perhaps the next play could be Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and they should be allowed to film the six-month rehearsals and the final performance on the prison stage. In the beginning of this documentary, Caesar Must Die (Cesare Deve Morire), each man faces the camera and gives his real name and place of birth. Then we see the men disappear into their roles, incorporate them into their being, and at the same time reveal something of their lives as criminals, often members of organized mobs such as the Mafia. In a short 76 minutes the film captures us; we believe that they are really actors, even nice guys and we totally forget their crimes much less their victims. They seemed to have been changed by acting out something else; Cosimo Rega who plays Assius said, “Since I have known art, this cell has turned into a prison.” Salvatore Striano had been released from prison, but he returned to continue his role of Brutus for the film.
Imagine: a group of prisoners put on a play and one of them actually becomes an actor in his new-found freedom. I’m not surprised that this film won the Golden Bear as the 2012 Berlinale’s best film. There is a force that jumps from the black-and-white screen. The dynamic music helps it along the way – none of the plink-plunk piano notes that so often underline the action. Responsible for the music are Giuliano Taviani (son of Vittorio), who has composed music for 26 screenplays, and a colleague: talented pianist Carmelo Travia. All of this talent, but I truly believe that the real winner is William Shakespeare, the author of Julius Caesar. The words of Cassius, Brutus, Caesar, or Mark Anthony never shook the audience so powerfully as from the mouths of these prisoners, which shows that Shakespeare is truly a genius, a man whose works are effective everywhere in all situations. (Becky Tan)