Caesar Must Die is a stylish Italian blend of theatre and cinema, fed through a lens of lush, rich and creamy black and white. It is a surprising film in many ways. The controversial winner of this year’s Golden Bear, the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, this is the latest film by the Taviani brothers, Paolo and Vittorio, winners of the Palme D’Or at Cannes for their 1977 film Padre padrone.
This film is a surprisingly intense affair. Set in a high security prison, the premise revolves around the annual play performed by the prisoners to a public audience. Visiting director Fabio Cavalli selects Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, a tale of honour and deceit among politicians. Having chosen their cast, the inmates begin assiduously rehearsing their characters, taking their respective ancient Romans back into their cells and deeper within their lives and psyches.
The great surprise of Caesar Must Die is that it was filmed entirely almost as a stylised documentary. These are real prisoners performing a real play for a real audience, behind bars for crimes that involve everything from murder to Mafiosi connections. This is explained toward the beginning of the film, but only becomes explicit at the very end. This is surprising because Caesar Must Die is a thrilling drama, with excellent comedy moments, which is due in large part to both the confident directing and the phenomenal cast. Undoubtedly one of the most unexpectedly moving films of the year, it shows tonight as part of the BFI London Film Festival.