MIFF 2012: “Caesar Must Die” betrays the power of its premise
Cesare deve morire (Caesar Must Die)
Directed by Paolo Taviani and Vittoria Taviani
Written by William Shakespeare (excerpts from “Julius Caesar”), Paolo Taviani and Vittoria Taviani
Anyone who walks into a screening of Caesar Must Die with the belief that they will be seeing a documentary should know this now: Caesar Must Die is not a documentary. It can barely be called a docudrama. It rather belongs in the curious category of metafilm, nestled among those pictures that blur and obscure the line between fact and fiction, demolish the fourth wall and are so conscious of themselves that they may disappear into a spiral of self-referentiality. Metafilms can be some of the most innovative and invigorating pieces of cinema when successful, but when they are not they can materialise as hollow exercise or dense nuggets of intellectual tedium.
This film by the brothers Taviani, awarded the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale by a jury presided over by Mike Leigh, slots in somewhere near the mid to lower end of the metafilm sliding scale. Conceptually, it is a fascinating exercise (already the word surfaces). For six months Paolo and Vittoria Taviani and their film crew stationed themselves in the high-security wing of the Roman prison Rebibbia to document theatre director Fabio Cavalli undertake the task of staging Shakespeare’s a public performance of Julius Caesar with a cast made up entirely of inmates. Were this an ordinary documentary (or a documentary at all), this subject matter would have been more than ample: a man of presumed culture and refinement attempting to muster satisfactory if not great performances from a gang of assumedly hardened and artless men serving sentences for crimes ranging from drug trafficking to murder. One may imagine that the nature of The Bard’s tale of tyranny, betrayal, honour and redemption might play into the actors’ own histories to intriguing effect. There are definite hints and allusions to these parallels in the film’s brief runtime, but this doesn’t appear to be Caesar Must Die’s main interest.
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