This prison of ours – Caesar Must Die review


By Simon Miraudo
February 11, 2013

The continued relevance of William Shakespeare’s work more than 400 years after it was originally written is an impressive feat of prophetic penmanship, to say the least. Who, from this day and age, could possibly compare? I daresay E.L. James will unlikely set future generations alight with her BDSM talk (even now, all that belt-work in 50 Shades of Grey feels rather quaint). But we’re all so accustomed to Shakespeare’s brilliant plays, it’s harder and harder to be surprised or startled by fresh interpretations of them. (If I have to watch just one more that takes place in a “modern gangland” setting…)

Leave it to octogenarian writer-directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani to find a new twist with their Golden Bear winner Caesar Must  Die, wherein the real inmates of a high security Roman prison enact their city’s most famous tale of betrayal: Julius Caesar. The prisoners – many of them really serving life sentences for Camorra affiliated crimes, thievery, and murder – are cast in a production of the play that will eventually be attended by family and friends. The auditions are enthusiastically attended, though only the best actors make the cut.


Blame it on the power of Shakespeare’s words, or the brief release from captivity that his work affords them, but the rehearsals soon overwhelm the entire detention center. The cast’s personal grievances colour their characters, and reality can no longer be differentiated from performance. Those portraying Brutus, Cassius, and Caesar himself are brought great emotional pain, but it’s sweet relief compared to what comes when the show is over. As one of them shares with the camera: “Since I have known art, this cell has turned into a prison.”

It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s fake here, though I suspect even the personal breakdowns and conflicts have been scripted by the Tavianis. What’s undeniable is the gravitas brought by the actors, each of whom are undeniably drawing from a pool of deep hurt, regret, guilt, and anger, much like the subjects in Julius Caesar. The prison setting proves to be an engrossing one, gorgeously realised in black-and-white. Those ever-present walls are a fitting metaphor for the cage Brutus and his fellow senators find themselves in after plotting – and executing – their plan to usurp the power-hungry Caesar. In just 76 minutes, the Taviani brothers treat us to a deeply affecting adaptation of this ancient play, embedded with even deeper meaning on account of its unconventional stars.


Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Caesar Must Die plays the Perth International Arts Festival from February 11 to 16, 2013.

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