"“Italy sure has some really talented prisoners...”"
Having won the much coveted Golden Bear accolade at last years Berlin Film Festival and put forward as Italy's submission to the Academy Awards, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's Caesar Must Die comes to Britain with a degree of expectation placed upon it, and in what is an innovative, naturalistic drama featuring real prisoners performing Julius Caesar, it certainly has its strong points – although whether this deserved to win the top prize at one of the worlds most prestigious film festivals remains to be seen.
Set in a high-security prison in Rome, we follow real-life prisoners putting on a public performance of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar – and although using the actual inmates who put on the show, this is a narrative driven piece presented as a sort-of-documentary – a hybrid between the two, where the rehearsals and the performance is all real, but has simply been dramatised for cinematic effect. Although all imprisoned for serious crimes, the group of actors who have been picked out of the audition process to appear in this production, find inspiration in doing something so creative and artistic with their time, allowing them something else to focus on other than the four grey walls that incarcerates them.
We begin by seeing the triumphant stage performance right away, so the viewer is instantly informed of the fact that the production goes ahead successfully, allowing for a comforting feeling as we know they are to succeed. The Taviani brothers – both of whom are in their 80's - really manage to capture the essence of the play itself, using black and white imagery in the process, really enhancing the monotonous, melancholic atmosphere that emanates from within this concrete confinement.
Although taking an intriguing approach – whereby this feature blurs the line between what constitutes as being a narrative feature and what is a documentary – in many ways this could ultimately benefit had it simply been presented as a more conventional documentary. This mainly proves to be the case as we don't feel that we truly see the inmates as real prisoners so to speak, as given the theatrical, cinematic, approach, even when they aren't acting or rehearsing Julius Cesar, they are technically still always acting. This takes away some of the realism that lays the foundations of which this film is entirely based upon, detracting, in a sense, from the films very own unique selling point. However where the naturalistic aspect really does come into fruition, is within the somewhat harrowing side to this film, as despite growing fond of those involved in the production, knowing they are all real-life criminals, some of which are imprisoned for murder – gives the film a dark, eerie ambiance, particularly as you grow so attached and fond of them as artists.
Despite the sheer innovation of this project, it still requires an intelligent, meticulous filmmaker (or two in this case) to bring this story to life and fully encapsulate the emotion that lies beneath the surface, in a film that is impeccably well-crafted. What we also learn from this, is that - along with Matteo Garrone's soon to be released Reality, which also features a real life criminal as the title role - Italy sure has some really talented prisoners.