Paolo and Vittorio Tavali use a cast of real world convicts to tell the story of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
At 77 minutes long, Caesar Must Die does not take on the entire story of Julius Caesar but instead, by using prisoners at an Italian prison, adds a layer of real human drama to an ancient story, while subtly comparing the decision of Brutus to overthrow a tyrant, with the potential for prison riots.
Make no mistake though, Caesar Must Die is not a documentary, the cast follow the filmmakers script very carefully, and even the scenes that appear to be between the prisoners on a personal level – outside their Shakespearean performances – are scripted. While this serves to underline the issues facing prisoners, it is also the weak point of the film, as the actors perform their “real life” characters with the same gravity that they give their fictional roles. That said, the performances within the world of Shakespeare are often surprising. A former prisoner turned actor leads the cast but Salvatore Striano as Brutus gives a string and nuanced performance as the conflicted assassin.
Filmed in a combination of colour – for the stage performances – and black and white – for the “rehearsals” – which marks the difference between the performances, Caesar Must Die is an examination of the world of a prison and how it can easily substitute for the ancient city of Rome. The comparisons are clear, and while this is clever, it runs out of steam incredibly quickly.
Caesar Must Die is a clever idea with some surprising performances, but the film is let down by a combination of characters that are not made clear enough through performance. If a prisoner turned actor story is what you are after though, this is an interesting affair and underlines the fact that there is redemption to be found, even after violence and incarceration.