Caesar Must Die (3 stars)

Caesar Must Die

Compelling version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, filmed with the inmates of Rome’s Rebibbia jail

Veteran filmmakers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani craft a compelling version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in Caesar Must Die, which won the Golden Bear award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. The twist here is that the performance takes place within the walls of Rome’s Rebibbia prison and the performers are all inmates. The prison’s theatre company has, for many years, put on shows working with some of the prison’s most hardened criminals, many of whom are serving time for mafia-related crimes. It’s this group who the Taviani brothers follow, in the lead up to their performance of the Rome-set classic.

The result is a highly distinct mix of documentary and fiction where the rehearsals of the play, unfurling in the cells, courtyard and corridors of the jail, come together to tell Shakespeare’s story. Black and white cinematography captures the stark setting, giving it a minimal elegance. Occasionally the ‘real world’ creeps in, as the actors break from rehearsals or internal prison politics rear their head, at these points we’re reminded of the position of these individuals and Shakespeare’s words take on an extra layer of meaning.

The ‘play-within-the-film’ concept keeps the audience held slightly at arms length, but in many of the more intense scenes it’s hard not to be sucked in, at least until the real world interrupts again. In this way Caesar Must Die recalls Lars Von Trier’s bare bones offering Dogville. The performances too, are impressive and will have you questioning whether the group aren’t professional actors after all. That is, until the final credits sequence where the names and photos of those involved bring home just what an accomplishment the film (or, perhaps more accurately, the play within the film) is.

Caesar Must Die screened at London Film Festival. It’s released in cinemas in 2013.

Caesar Must Die trailer

Caesar Must Die

  • 3 stars
  • 2012
  • Italy
  • 1h 16min
  • Directed by: Paolo Taviani/Vittorio Taviani
  • Written by: William Shakespeare, Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani
  • Cast: Cosimo Rega, Salvatore Striano, Giovanni Arcuri
  • UK release: 1 March 2013

Compelling documentary about the theatre company of Rome’s Rebibbia prison, rehearsing Shakespeare's Julius Caesar with a cast made up of hardened prisoners. The Taviani brothers' sensitive approach and the impressive performances of the actors helped it to win the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.