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A week has passed since I watched "Cesare deve morire" and I am still
trying to decipher the multiple layers on which this film has worked in
my mind. The brothers Taviani have directed a masterpiece of 76' which
however is so dense in content that the time is waxing inside one's own
The Tavianis are documenting the mis-en-scene of a Shakespeare piece inside a prison. Probably the most impressive element of "Cesare deve morire" is the performances of the inmate actors. The fact that the film is shot as a documentary in its natural setting spreads the film in two layers which are seamlessly weaved on each other. On the first level we see the prisoners who are passionately rehearsing the lines of their characters and on the second level we stand on front of Cesar, Brutus and Antonius discussing in the alleys of Rome. As in the case of Bergman, the brothers Taviani are very successfully studying the relationship between theater and cinema.
This prison setting is extremely symbolic and renders the actor performances utterly intense. It feels as if the prisoners, lacking their physical freedom, are getting deep into the skin of those new personas seeking the experiences which prison has deprived them of. The performances are so convincing that one has to contemplate on the nature of human destiny. Could it be that one's social condition or even coincidences could make the same persons capable of the best and of the worst? Moreover, the film leads to an unavoidable rumination of the concept of freedom in all its forms.
A stark black and white photography pronounces the prison architecture and recreates ancient Rome in its bare corridors. The photography is perfectly self-standing and it would be of great artistic value even in the absence of a plot. The black and white may emphasize the lack of freedom of the inmates but also allows the spectator to ignore redundant information and to concentrate on the performances of the actors. It is remarkable how architectural beauty arises even in a prison. The common spaces are illustrated exceptionally well and after a while one feels lost in a limbo between the prison and Rome.
Finally, although the audience reaches catharsis after the end of Shakespeare's narration the narration of brothers Taviani remains unresolved into ones psyche. I personally believe that "Cesare deve morire" is one of those rare cinematic experiences that are capable to shake away well entrenched beliefs. That alone would make the film worth seeing. Gladly, those 76' are so much more.
After attending the premiere of "Cesare Deve Morire", I was not so sure
about the movie. It was a good movie, but somehow essayist, rather
loose, not catchy. The outstanding performance of Salvatore Striano
(Brutus) was striking and rewarded by the audience. The beautiful
composition of black and white pictures was of high aesthetic value. It
is a very calm movie, the music is nearly minimalistic.
So how come it had a huge impact on me - later? In contrast to most other movies I had seen in Berlin, it was important. Other movies dealt with existentialistic, superficially more important topics than with some prisoners rehearsing a Shakespeare play. Yet "Cesare Deve Morire" had more to say and thus it deserved the Golden Bear. The questions it poses are the same ones as in the Shakespeare play in interrelation with the real destiny of the imprisoned play actors. Even though it is not a particularly spectacular movie, it has the tenor of what makes a strong movie: Importance. The filmmaking is of minor importance, the idea is in the foreground, which is the right decision. The play continues in our minds after the final curtain. Impressive.
The Shakespearean 'All the world's a stage' gets a new meaning with
this very interesting and very different film made by the Taviani
brother whose actors and heroes are individuals for which the world is
the high security prison where many of them are to spend long years
paying for serious crimes. Using theater as a mean of therapy end
education happens in some of these prisons, now a film not only dares
to make this process known and visible outside the perimeter of the
prison, but also tries to make of it a work of art. The Golden Bear at
the Film Festival in Berlin is a proof that the Taviani brothers
succeeded to convince at least the critics and members of the jury. I
get the feeling that the larger public was less convinced - it's a very
interesting piece of cinema, but not one of these that attracts
audiences in numbers. This is not entertainment.
In one of the introductory scenes we see a screen test. The actors-to-be are asked to introduce themselves in two situations - a 'soft' family one, and a second which demands them to feel constrained and express rage. Each of them acts with a mix of sincerity and intensity that much exceeds and compensates their lack of professionalism. This is the key of the film. We have already seen theater in theater (Shakespeare himself is the first and maybe greatest master of the genre) and theater about prisons, and many of these were already brought to screen. What we have never seen before is the mix of situations which makes the walls of the prison disappear for the ephemeral moments when the words of the ancient drama become the reality of life for the prisoners acting it.
The film asks many questions which arise after the screening ends. Julius Caesar is a play about values - honor, democracy, freedom. How do the prisoners relate to these? The characters of the play are cruel in modern terms, the plot is also about treason and murder - how do these men who have committed serious crimes relate to these deeds? Some of the most interesting moments in the play (and there are only a few of them) are these in which real life (which for the actors is life in prison) interferes in the scenes of the play. I found the smooth, sometimes unobserved, sliding of life in a 21st century prison into the political drama that took place in the first century BC to be terrifying.
And then we have the ending. The show is over, it ends in applause and ovations. Then the actors get back to what is their 'home' - the prison where most of them still have to spend many years. What we do understand is that life cannot go on without such a film changing it. The lives of the special actors in this movie, but to some extent the lives of the spectators as well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Cesare deve morire" ("Caesar Must Die") is the latest movie from
brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, experienced (both over 80 years
old) Italian directors and screenwriters. In February 2012 it won the
Golden Bear, the main prize of the Berlin International Film Festival,
and a very strong reception from the audience which seems to continue.
So what's it about? Some time ago a friend told the Taviani brothers
about the great experience she had watching a play in a small theatre
in Rome and so they went to visit it. They went there, loved the
actors, and decided to film them creating another play, Shakespeare's
"Julius Caesar". All of that doesn't sound like something special but
there's a catch. The theatre is in fact in Rebibbia, a high-security
prison, and all of the actors are convicts sentenced for various crimes
and to a various amount of time (some even for life). That's the most
peculiar but also the most problematic thing about this movie.
The movie establishes three levels: one on the scene, the enacting of play, and two in the prison, prisoners as what should be their normal selves talking about the play and in their roles rehearsing for the play. The interesting thing is that on all of the levels the movie feels scripted. The moments of rehearsing are, with the help of camera work, editing and music, made to look like they are parts of play itself, whilst the situations when the prisoners are out of character see them still acting ,thus ironically making the actual play on the stage the only nonfictional part of the movie. As you can imagine, it all leaves you a little confused. Of course, it's questionable if the directors even wanted to create everything in that way. Maybe I'm just reading too much into it. But "Cesare deve morire" obviously tackles the theme of the theater-reality relationship and the fact that it's a movie undeniably adds to the equation.
What the Taviani brothers pointed as their main intention in doing this movie is drawing the viewers' attention to the human side of the prisoners, and I'm not sure if they succeeded in that. That they in fact worked with amateur actors didn't help. As I've already said, the prisoners seem to act all the time thus denying us any real emotion and depriving us of any empathy. What we can assume is the usefulness of creating the prison theatre group. Both as a useful way for convicts to spend their time and as means to enable their interaction with the outside world. Bearing that in mind, the movie becomes useful as a sort of advertisement reaching to a broader audience.
Being the advertisement of course isn't enough to be a good movie, however good the cause it advertises may be. Fortunately, there are a few more good things about it. Most of the movie is shot in black and white and the cinematography, done by Simone Zampagni, is beautiful. The use of the camera transforms prison cells to Roman houses and makes simple courtyards become the Senate and the grand Forum of the Eternal City. It successfully embodies "less is more" principle. The music composed by Giuliano Taviani and Carmelo Travia in the beginning feels mismatched, but when you recognize the rehearsals as the play and the other levels accordingly it clicks in emphasizing the pathos of the tragedy.
"Cesare deve morire" isn't a movie without its charms. I just feel like the directors didn't successfully accomplish what they were trying to, even if in the process they created something interesting (deliberately or not). That said, it puzzles me why it got the Golden Bear and I can't wait to see some of the other movies from the competition.
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Perhaps its the beautiful rolling sound of the Italian dialogue telling the story of Julius Cesar that made this enjoyable at least to the auditory sense. Perhaps it was that the language was sometimes amended to be more modern and meaningful. Perhaps it was the explained parallels of some of the prisoners experiences that helped to make the context more understandable. No matter, it was a thoroughly great way to start the Sydney Film Festival. The fact that this was a script within a script set in a prison using some real life prisoners didn't detract from anything in this film for me - I go to the cinema generally looking for a story, a fabrication, an unreality dressed in reality. I liked the gritty black and white, the sub-line of the prison life and setting. Yes, perhaps a prisoner saying he now felt caged etc didn't have to be said because it was obvious, but all in all a very enjoyable watch. I was engaged and participating from beginning to end. For me, one of the better versions of Julius/Shakespeare and a nice twist on an old but everlasting story.
Taviani Brothers'2012 Golden Berlin Bear winner, saw the screening in
this year's KVIFF, an intensely conceptual piece which recounts a play
of "Julius Caesar"done by all-male prisoners. Shot entirely in Black &
White, the film generates a certain art form extremity of blurring the
boundary between play and film, and takes advantages of the indoor
settings (which almost encompasses the entire film except for a few
shots), the final result is gratifyingly diverting, both the film and
I have only watched one Taviani Brothers' film before, ALLONSANFAN (1974, a 5/10). So I need to do more homework to comment on their style or expound on their near 60 years long walk- of-life. Simply single out this film, its artistic frontier has transcended other peers and condensed into a puristic absorption on the material itself, namely, the characters of the play and the individual prisoners who take on the roles, and strikingly their distinctions and similarities are undone in a yet refrained way. There are affluent theatrical nuisances in the film, although it only runs a scant 76 minutes, the film successfully conveys its ethos and every second counts.
Salvatore Striano stars the leading role as Bruto, his rough-edged dedication is imperfect but authentic, other supporters, the stand-outs are Cosimo Rega's Cassio and Juan Dario Bonetti's Decio, but by and large the amateur antics are put into the right place, and the absorbing original score by Giuliano Taviani and Carmelo Travia also lifts the film into a great adaption from Shakespeare's cannon. It's a true blessing to justify the fact that directors could surpass themselves even at their octogenarian years.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A bunch of convicts in a maximum security prison, suddenly face a new
challenge: to prepare and stage a William Shakespeare play in-house.
Much as for many of them it initially became an excuse to spend more time outside their cells, in the process each of them had to come face to face with their own selves, the issues with one another as well as their fate.
On this note, this is an area that this film excels in the sense that this group of people are happy to train to act as anyone else but themselves.
To their credit they gave their all but it was not easy as consciousness begun to kick in and the struggles appeared. During this time, they forgot they were convicts, some lifers, but became actors who lived in the time of Caesar.
The most profound moments appeared after the end of the play when the inmates stopped pretending they were actors and had to face the reality that heir cell was once more a prison and staring at the ceiling for infinity resumed.
For a 76 minute film, it has substantial depth and takes the audience into a journey of forgetfulness, reality and transformation.
Unable to snap up a ticket for this during Berlinale Film Festival
(where it also won the grand prize), I've been itching to see Caesar
Must Die (Cesare deve morire) for quite some time now. The latest from
veteran Italian duo, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (Padre Padrone, Kaos),
it's a documentary-fiction hybrid observing the rehearsals and final
performance of William Shakespeare's Roman masterpiece 'Julius Caesar'.
What makes this movie noteworthy is it's idiosyncratic formalities: the
play is being performed from Rome's high security Rebibbia Prison, and
the players are it's incarcerated residents: an ensemble cast of
murderers, drug dealers and thieves.
The brothers waste no time with needless exposition on the inmates' backstories or crimes. Instead, the pair focus, with brutal proximity, how these criminals connect with the words of "The Bard". Aside from the final, veracious performance, it's all shot in stylised black and white, as we see the production being set up, the rehearsals in the prison courtyard, and the delicate moments these wrongdoers spend behind cell bars. As is often the case with the Taviani's back-catalogue, there's moments filmed in tender close-ups; loading objects such as an empty chair or a wooden sword an implausible subtext.
That meta-narrative carries over to the inmates themselves, and ends up confusing us. Not only are they performers in the Shakespearean sense, it quickly becomes clear that they are being presented as poetical cyphers of their real life criminal selves. It's a shameful attempt at allegory expressing how the elder words of Shakespeare relate to contemporary penal society, and in doing so removes any sense of empathy we would have otherwise had for the inmates.
Although the "play-within-a-film" gimmick is a good one, it's hardly original (Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York and Canadian filmmaker John Greyson's Lillies are both really worth a look). It's also not the best part of Caesar Must Die. With such astounding performances and beautiful adaptation of Shakespeare's words, one wishes that the Tatvianis abandoned the ostentatious stunts and luscious monochrome display, and instead focused plainly on documenting these ostracised people. An extraordinary, grotesque bunch, who find happiness, solidarity and hope in creative expression.
Read more reviews at www.366movies.com
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Viewed at the Lobero Theatre on January 28, 2013, during the Santa
Barbara International Festival at 11:00 A.M. Reviewed by Larry Gleeson.
"Caesar Must Die,"a masterful rendition of a filmed play, a narrative
and a documentary all seemingly rolled into a one of a kind colossal
piece of work in a "quick" seventy-six minutes. The film is directed by
the Taviani Brothers who choose to begin the film with what appears to
be a filmed play as we see a staged play in color and an up-roaring
applauding audience paying great respect to what they've just
witnessed. And, just as quickly as the audience applauded, the film
cuts to black and white and thus begins the feel of a documentary as we
discover what we're seeing are prison inmates going for auditions in a
The casting agents request the actors who all seem to e Italians with a natural dramatic flare built into their genetic make-up,to recite personal data name, birth date and place of birth, pre-incarceration city or town of residence first emotionally distraught and then again defiantly angry with surprising results of great intensity and with subtle humor. Here overlays provide their convictions and the lengths of their sentences and we become privy to the fact that these are hardened criminals. For those who are familiar with the original "Dirty Dozen" a resemblance can be ascertained. Much like the stockade soldiers being sent behind enemy lines to carry out a dangerous mission, our inmates are volunteering to take part in a pilot program to introduce art into the Roman prison system.
Interestingly enough, the theater director allows the men to speak in their native dialect and to find within their respective life experience as common ground with the character they are portraying. The character of Julius Caesar is played by Giovanni Arcuri with swagger and determination. Brutus is played by, in my opinion, the most interesting cast member, Salvatore Striano. Pardoned of his crimes in 2006, Striano took up acting and returned to the prison to participate and work in this production.
Furthermore, watching the inmates rehearse and run lines within the prison added an unbefore seen experience of Shakespeare for me. What at first appeared as a lifeless existence being incarcerated, I watched these inmates become re-animated performing daily routines and mundane chores.
The reality of the inmates being returned to their cell in the evening and hearing the closing and latching of their cell doors was a powerful reminder of the seriousness of their existence. A telling affect the experience had on the inmates shouts loudly in a mild-mannered tone as the inmate Rega serving a twenty year stretch breaks the fourth wall and comes right into the theater screening stating, "Since I have known art, this cell has become a prison." Indeed, the power of dramatic art to form and shape and experience can be so profound. I took a chance on this viewing with a large group of retired Rhodes scholars and I feel I was handsomely rewarded. Highly recommended to theater and film buffs alike.
I saw this at the Palm Springs Film Festival and was blown away! As
soon as the movie began, I could tell it was a movie that I should pay
The plot is a performance of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar by a group of real-life prisoners in an Italian prison. I loved how the prisoners could relate to the play by seeing the parallels in their own lives--the power lust, deceit and betrayal. The more the prisoners understood the play, the more they became immersed in their roles.
There have been many attempts to make Shakespeare palatable to the modern audience. This was my favorite iteration because it showed the actors trying to understand it, just as an audience might try to find the relevance. As a high school student, I found Shakespeare and Roman History boring. It wasn't until I hit my 40s did I realize this history was more violent than the Sopranos.
I don't know if this movie has ever been widely released. I highly recommend seeing it if it ever comes to your town.
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