Paolo and Vittorio Taviani look to muddy the murky waters between fact and fiction with their latest ambitious project, CAESAR MUST DIE, which I saw almost a year ago at Cannes 2012. In fact, it was the first film I’d ever seen at any Cannes film festival. Needless to say, I was fizzing with overexcitement. The film centres around a risky idea: putting on a production of Julius Caesar at Rome’s Rebibbia prison, starring the convicts as Shakespeare’s well-known Roman politicians and generals.
But far from an end of term English class project enacted by prisoners instead of the usual bored teenagers, the Taviani brothers deliver a production which any classroom would be privileged to witness.
We’re introduced to the key inmates and given a few details about their pasts, then it’s straight into rehearsals as the action cuts between cells, courtyards and recreation rooms showing the convicts deeply committed to their task. With haunted stares and clenched fists a-plenty, the prospective thespians cut imposing figures – it’s hard to believe they’re not RSC grads with thirty years experience treading the boards behind them. It’s to the directors’ credit that it’s all shot with such an elegant lightness of touch; their nuanced approach allows us an insight into moments of real intimacy with these broken men. These performances are even more impressive when you take into account that what you are watching, for the most part, is merely the process.
At a lean 76 minutes, CAESAR MUST DIE doesn’t give you a second to breathe. This is taut, electric film-making at its barest and was the deserving winner of the Golden Bear at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival. It is quite unlike anything I have ever seen.
As the curtain falls, the convicts are led back to their cells – it’s a sobering reminder of the reality of this world, making us all the more grateful for the glimpse of something else we’ve briefly shared with them.
I urge you, wholeheartedly, to seek this film out. You will not regret it.
CAESAR MUST DIE screens at Picturehouse Cinemas on 2 April.