Cesare deve morire(Caesar Must Die) is among the 10 films of the 2012 LUX Prize Official Selection. In Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's fiction, the performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar comes to an end and the performers are rewarded with rapturous applause. The lights go out; the actors leave the stage and return to their cells. They are all inmates of the Roman maximum security prison Rebibbia. Filmmakers spent six months following rehearsals for this stage production; their film demonstrates how the universality of Shakespeare’s language helps the actors to understand their roles and immerse themselves in the bard’s interplay of friendship and betrayal, power, dishonesty and violence.
The brothers first had the idea of filming the inmates in the Roman high security prison of Rebibbia discovering theatre, when someone told them that they had been moved to tears by a performance of Dante’s Inferno that they had seen there. It had been directed by Fabio Cavalli, thanks to whom the Rebibbia theatre became the respected institution that it is today, attracting thousands of spectators, including school children.
Thus, the film starts with the final scene of Julius Ceasar, after which images become black and white as the prisoner comedians regain the starkness of their cells. We are then taken back in time to discover what they have just lived through, the auditions and rehearsals that have become an integral part of their lives.
If these members of the Mafia and the Camorra so well perform this masculine tragedy by the great Bard, it is because the acts in which Brutus and other “men of honour” conspire against and murder their friend Ceasar out of “duty”, are not foreign to them. Each in their own dialect, they each become part of the Shakesperian tragedy, the insupportable tragedy that makes one sweat, cry, and that fills one’s chest with its immensity. The story of this play is also their own story, which allows the art of the Elizabethan poet to be performed to the full.
Cesare deve morire is the fascinating tale of a prison experience that can bring redemption, as some of its criminals have changed their lives since they discovered theatre, such as the former criminal-turned-actor Salvatore Striano, seen in Gomorra. But it is also the story of Italians discovering a central figure in their culture, a portrait of the pain of someone who has killed and is locked away forever to face his crimes, and a beautiful hommage to Shakespeare. And then, overall, it is a resounding hymn to the power of art, suddenly revealed to these men previously unaware of its beauty. When the play ends, when after six glorious months the curtain falls, one of the inmates speaks these moving words: “Now that I know art, this cell has become a prison.”
Cesare deve morire won the Golden Bear for Best Film at the Berlinale 2012, as well as the Nastro of the Year at the Nastri d'argento 2012 and the Best Film, Best Director, Best Production, Best Edirot and Best Live Sound Engineer awards at the David di Donatello 2012 Awards.
Interview with Paolo and Vittorio Taviani:
You consider Shakespeare as one of your major references. Why?
Paolo Taviani: We say jokingly that Shakespeare has been a father, a brother, and a son to us. During our childhood, he was a myth: we read his work, we glimpsed at his greatness, and used the instruments that he gave us in our work. His work is so accessible that we have always felt very close to it, in the same way that feel close to a brilliant elder brother. Because we can never say it enough: It is very important to discover Shakespeare over and over again. Now that we have become older, we decided that we could change Shakespeare a little bit, deconstruct him to rebuild him in a different way. We did it for cinema, a world quite different from Shakespeare's. We also thought that it would be a good idea to set up this play in prison.
Why exactly did you choose the play Julius Caesar ?
Vittorio Taviani: Everything started by chance. One of our friends told us that a play in a prison had moved him to tears, something that rarely happened to him. We went to see it. We were in a high security facility with Mafia criminals performing Dante's Inferno. They themselves where in the hell of imprisonment and completely identified to their characters. Everybody knows what being in prison means and American films portray them in a certain way. But when you go to a prison and you start to work with the prisoners, you create a certain bond, a certain closeness, as you try to understand them. We practically became friends with them, but at one point, someone told us, "They're criminals, be careful!" But you can still feel compassion for them because you know that they are suffering for whatever they have done. So we asked ourselves what we could do for them, how we could show their reality. And we thought that Julius Caesar might be a good choice. Everybody knows the story of Brutus and we wondered how the text would translate into the Napolitan dialect of these "men of honour". They were simultaneously in their own world and in Shakespeare's. The play is about the power, betrayal, and assassination of a leader. We thought that perhaps we could include their experiences, their personnalities, and their realities into the play. This is because their lives are dramatic, and we could link them to Brutus' destiny for example. They could easily identify with these characters. With the film, we wanted to show life, the trauma lived by these prisoners, violence, suffering, failure, grief. Because prison is a terrible experience.
How did you choose your actors?
Paolo Taviani: When we met these actors, they were both prisoners and actors. Fabio Cavalli helped us a lot as a theatre director who has dedicated a whole part of his life to theatre in prisons. He gave us the opportunity to meet some of the inmates. Then we chose some of them. During the auditions and the repetitions, they gave their real names, not pseudonyms, they cried, they became angry, although they knew that it was all for a film to be seen in Italian cinemas. We were very surprised by this and by the fact that they were very good actors, even if a little conventional. When the actor says "I will kill Caesar," there is a pain that would not exist with a usual actor, as we can feel his past. These detained actors were capable of communicating in a very emotional manner.
Why did you make this film in black and white?
Vittorio Taviani: Today, there are so many naturalist representations with images in colour. We wanted to show something else: what was in the soul of these people. This is why we chose the non-realism of black and white. For us, all that was a unique experience. When we entered the prison for the first time, it was like entering a new world. The complexity of human destiny is very mysterious.