Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's film “Cesare deve morire" (Caesar must die) is based on Shakespeare's tragedy „Julius Caesar“ written in the 16th century. The play is based on true historical events and portrays 44 B. C. conspiracy against the Roman dictator Julius Caesar, his assassination and the defeat of the conspirators at the battle of Philippi.
In Brother Taviani's film the play is staged at a prison theater in Rome and the main actors are criminals, some serving life-long sentences, some being arrested for mafia activities some for murder. The film's opening scene is in fact the final scene of the play performed in front of the public assembled in the prison theatre. This scene, showing Brutus begging one of his people to assist him commit suicide, is repeated at the very end of the film thus closing the cycle. The episode is crucial since it portrays Brutus as the winner in spite of his defeat. As the Latin verse goes one returns from the battle “either with the shield or on it,” and sometimes the latter brings more glory than the former. Brutus, Caesar's closest ally and friend, put behind his feelings and participated in the senator's conspiracy aimed to kill Caesar, since the senate feared he would became a dictator. Lying on the shield Brutus is portrayed in the film as the hero that fell for the sake of Rome and his people and so is he remembered in history.
The choice of the filmmakers to stage Shakespeare's political play in contemporary prison shows the intention to address the problem of political power, arbitrariness and intrigue that still pose a challenge to societies worldwide. Taviani's film within a film related to the play within a play draws the parallel between the past and the present of their own country or elsewhere. It also explores the thin line separating reality (e.g. everyday prison reality) from fiction to the extent when the two superimpose and the one cannot be differentiated from the other. The prisoners of the contemporary Rebbibia detention facility in Rome are compared to the prisoners in the Roman Empire. The parallel goes even further as the detainees of the contemporary prison: the outlaws, and the murderers identify, while acting their respective parts in the play, with the conspirators from the Roman Senate declared assassins and enemies of the state in 43 B. C. by Octavian. Whereas the actual viewer in the cinema hall identifies with the spectators invited to view the performance of Shakespeare's timeless play on the prison stage. And in spite of the fact that Shakespeare's play was written back in the 16th century and although it refers to historical events that took place even further back in history the issues at stake are as topical as ever, the fact mentioned by the prisoners themselves during the rehearsals.
“Since the time I know what is art this cell became a prison for me,” says one of the prisoners turned actors. The camera meticulously follows the protagonists revealing to the spectator the process of staging a play, the setting of scenes, the working on the roles, the doubts, inner conflicts and emotional upheavals that the amateur artists experience while rehearsing and learning their lines in the isolation of their prison cells.
With gentle humour and understanding the filmmakers reveal the complex psychological identities of the criminals (murderers, mafia members, etc.) stressing the transformative powers of art within a society that indulges in crime and where art has turned into part of the spectacle. Like Brutus the controversial hero and the assassin torn apart by doubt these criminals too are portrayed in the film as the ambivalent heroes of our times banned by society, suffering their social deaths in the prison cells.
Paolo and Vittorio Taviani or the so-called Taviani brothers are world-famous filmmakers, well-known for their political films. Their latest oeuvre “Cesare deve morire" won the Golden Bear at the 62nd Berlin Film Festival.