Film review: Caesar Must Die (12A)


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The Independent Culture

Docudrama, but not as we know it. The Taviani brothers, Paolo and Vittorio, went inside the high-security wing of a Roman prison (Rebibbia) to film a production of Julius Caesar, directed by Fabio Cavalli but acted by a group of prisoners, many of them lifers connected to the Mafia.

To say that they responded to a play about power, betrayal, honour and assassination would be putting it mildly, though it's more complicated than that. The film cleverly elides rehearsal, performance and the inmates' asides, which may be about Shakespeare's language or the consciousness of their own predicament.

Given their grim surroundings and drab routine, the tough guys – whose crimes we never learn – commit themselves to the production as if their lives depended on it. It reaches beyond method acting towards a kind of heightened expression of rage and remorse, as though conscience is bleeding them from within – just take a look at Salvatore Striano's anguished features for illustration.

The procedure of the prisoners being locked in their cells each night is the stark reminder of who they are, yet a thin flame of humanity has been kindled. In a 400-year-old play they have found, briefly, a way of escape.