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February 12, 2013

Caesar Must Die

Caesar Must DieHere’s the set up. Real-life Italian prisoners in Rome’s high-security Rebibbia prison rehearse and stage an abbreviated version of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” for an audience of friends, family, and prison guards. Conceived by co-directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani ("Padre Padrone" — Berlin Film Festival 1977 winner) as a reality/theatrical statement on Italian self-identity, and the lasting relevance of Shakespeare’s political play "Julius Caesar."

The docudrama reveals the personalities of convicts using a play to displace their inner struggles and reinvent the walls that contain them. The film is a high-wire act with a very small net. Filmed largely in black-and-white, the movie establishes its characters during auditions where naturally gifted inmates give breathtaking and hilarious performances of an assigned sketch scene. Each Itlaian face is familiar and yet every animated gesture is fresh. We sense thousands of years of Italian culture pouring out from convicts doing time for everything from murder to various Mafia activities. Blood temperatures rise in keeping with the play within the film. Context is everything. The talented prisoners exhibit a wide range of emotions in playing their theatrically-bound roles. You can't help but wonder how much this dedicated and loyal group of men could add to society if given the proper support.

Shakespeare’s overriding text provides the surprisingly adept “actors” with an ongoing inner and outer dialogue regarding loyalty and betrayal. “Caesar Must Die” is an unconventional docudrama that engages its audience in a dialogue about the similarities between politicians and criminals, between actors and non-actors, and between observers and leaders. If you’re looking for an adventurous thought-provoking film, “Caesar Must Die” more than fits the bill.

Not Rated. 76 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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