Thursday 21 February 2013

Caesar Must Die - Powerful acting from Roman prisoners

In the Philippines inmates stage huge choreographed dances to 'Thriller', however in Italy they prefer to take on the classics and perform a production of Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar'. Two opposite ends of the spectrum, but both have their value to society, and for the many long term prisoners the affects are rewarding. Winner of the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival last year, this film is from the brothers Paolo and Vittorio Tavani.

'Caesar Must Die' is a film about the production and performance, conveying all aspects including the auditions, rehearsals and opening night show. Filmed entirely within the Rebibbia prison on the outskirts of Rome, shooting takes place in the prison cells, the yard and within the high security section. Upon selection of the cast, via some impressive auditions  - we are shown on screen the arrest dates, crime and sentence for each of the men involved. Most of the prisoners are members of different mobs - the Mafia, Camorra, Ndrangheta, and their crimes vary from drug trafficking to murder. The sentences differ from life to several years. At the start of the film I had been hoping that they would show such information as I always find the back story just as interesting.

Filmed mainly in black and white, the effective use of lighting techniques gives a wonderful depth to the characters that adds to the intensity of the mood. Colour is only used for the scenes of the final production - rich reds and deep blues add to the sombre tone of the story as Caesar is killed by Brutus. There is an intense connection between the actors/prisoners as this chance to perform is for most their only salvation during a long prison sentence. Salvatore Striano (Brutus) had spent many years behind bars, starting as a juvenile offender and finally ending up in Rebibbia. Thanks to his work in the theatre, upon his release in 2006 he was able to gain work as an actor and made his debut in Gomorra (by Matteo Garrone), and has also done a lot of work in television. Likewise Fabio Rizzuto (Strato) is also an ex-prisoner. They are the only actors who returned to the prison to appear in the production.
A play is performed each year at Rebibbia prison, and the film came into being after a friend of the director's explained to them how she was moved to tears by a wonderful performance she had been to. Piquing their interest they went to the prison, and suggested to the stage director Fabio Cavelli, that a production of Julius Caesar would be perfect for a film. There are many parallels in the story of friendship, betrayal and murder that exist within the lives of the prisoners.

Caesar Must Die is out on the 1st March.

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