We begin at the end, with Brutus (Salvatore Striano), betrayer of Caesar, impaling himself on a sword. Antony and Octavius speak their eulogies to this “noblest Roman of them all.” The theater goes dark, the applause begins, the all-male cast take their bows and exeunt. But now comes the surprise: The actors don’t return to their homes, but to their cells in the maximum-security wing of Rome’s Rebibbia prison. Hardened criminals performing William Shakespeare? Mind=blown!
There’s more than that to the latest feature from Italian filmmaking brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (The Night of the Shooting Stars)—but not much. Shot mostly in rich digital black and white, this flimsy doc-fiction hybrid explores the origins of the penitentiary’s Julius Caesar production, from the initial casting (the movie’s best scenes) to the tempestuous rehearsals and a triumphant-yet-melancholy opening night. Caesar Must Die frequently blurs the divide between real and imagined: A prisoner will suddenly slip out of character to opine, rather gracelessly, on Shakespeare’s universal insights, or a conflict in the play’s text will become a “real” conflict between actors. But though the Tavianis’ intent is clear—to comment on the thin line separating part and performer, as well as on the quite literally liberating powers of art—the meanings rarely emerge with any elegance or resonance. Hardly a dish fit for the gods.
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