Caesar Must Die

(Cesare deve morire)

Shakespeare’s 'Julius Caesar' usually runs about two-and-a-half hours uncut. Italian directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s tale of a prison-based production of the classic runs 76 minutes. Yet the film gets on screen not only the play’s bloody, double-dealing, hungry essence, but the redemptive potential of art.

Poster art for Caesar Must DieCaesar Must Die was filmed in Italy’s Rebibbia prison and enacted by inmates. But it isn’t a documentary. The twisty concept has the prisoners playing themselves as well as Shakespeare’s characters. Many of the men are real-life Mafiosi, and their rough faces and tough gaits are shot in a way that suggests life stories the movie never details.

The play’s dialogue is rendered in modern (but, insists the play’s director, ‘not vulgar’) Italian. Even so, familiar phrases weave through the subtitles, as when Marc Antony rehearses ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen’ in the prison yard as inmates cling to the barred windows and bay like the Roman mob.

The isolation and anger of prison bleeds into every moment. One particularly brilliant sequence shows the men putting their all into auditions, as the Tavianis superimpose crimes and sentences under each actor. These are offenders who needed a prison stint, and yet the greatness of the play can’t help but emphasize common humanity.

Such is literature’s power that the cast is more at ease portraying ancient Romans than speaking as versions of themselves. Muses the man playing Julius Caesar, ‘To think I found this so boring in school.’

– Farran Smith Nehme, The New York Post

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