Italian prisoners break through barriers via the Bard.
CAESAR MUST DIE (Paolo and Vittorio Taviani). 76 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (March 15). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNNN
Caesar Must Die, which won the Golden Bear at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, begins as a documentary about the efforts of inmates at Italy's Rebibbia prison to stage a performance of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.
Once we flash back to the beginnings of the production, it becomes evident that directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani are working on multiple levels, encouraging the convicts to play out the drama in the real space of the prison rather than on the stage where they'll eventually perform. Their rehearsals become a fragmented investigation of the text, and a mirror into their own hearts.
What the Tavianis do here isn't unprecedented; there was Peter Brook's Marat/Sade, though that was an entirely fictional representation of a play being staged by psychiatric inmates in post-revolutionary France.
Caesar Must Die is rooted in the present, with Shakespeare's play used to reflect on Italy's criminal culture, the text leading prisoners to personal epiphanies as they realize how much they have in common with the characters they're playing.
It's an incisive sociopolitical inquiry disguised as entertainment, just as the Bard intended.