Berlin 2012 – Golden Bear, Ecumenical Prize
David di Donatello Awards 2012 (Italian Oscar) – Best Film, Best Director
The theater in Rome’s Rebibbia Prison. A production of of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar ends to much applause. The lights go down and the actors return to being inmates. They are escorted and locked back in their cells.
Six months earlier. The warden and the prison theater director explain the new project to the inmates: Julius Caesar. First stage: the auditions. Second stage: getting to know the text. The universal language of Shakespeare helps the prisoners identify with their characters. The road is long: anxiety, hope, playfulness. These are the feelings that follow them to their cells, after a long day of rehearsing.
But who is this Giovanni who plays Caesar? Who is this Salvatore who plays Brutus? For what crime were they convicted? The movie doesn't keep it a secret.
However, the wonder and pride for their work can't always free them of the aggravations of being imprisoned. They end up fighting with one another, putting in danger the play.
The much awaited and feared day of the premier arrives. The public is numerous and diverse: inmates, students, actors, directors. Julius Caesar is once again brought back to life, but this time on a prison stage. It's a success.
Afterwards, the inmates return to their cells. Even “Cassius”, one of the protagonists, one of the best. He's been in prison for several years, but tonight his cell feels different, hostile. He remains still. Then he turns, looks right into camera and tells us: “from the moment I've known art, this cell has become a prison”.
From the master directors of THE LARK FARM, NIGHT SUN, KAOS, PADRE PADRONE (Cannes 77 Golden Palm) and THE NIGHT OF THE SHOOTING STARS
Caesar Must Die may reignite the fortunes of this octogenarian directing team… The picture is stark and alive in its simplicity; rendered mostly in black-and-white, it’s gorgeous to look at -- you could practically use it as an illustrated textbook on framing and composition… Intense, quiet power… The most wonderful sequence in this overall very fine picture may be the montage of the actors’ auditions, as they meet with the play’s director – a professional brought in from the outside – and try to impress him with their swagger and capacity for pathos… The picture also features a lovely, haunting Bernard Herrmann-inflected score -- in places I could hear shadows of Taxi Driver. When Caesar Must Die eventually shows up in American theaters -- and it will -- it’s going to be easy as pie for marketing people to sell: An uplifting story about prison dudes finding meaning in art can pretty much sell itself. But even though that line essentially describes what happens in Caesar Must Die, it doesn’t come close to capturing the simultaneously joyous and mournful resonance of the picture. Caesar Must Die is really just about the way art lives on through people, sometimes in unlikely ways. There’s no way to keep it behind bars.
— Stephanie Zacharek, MOVIELINE (USA)
A fascinating encounter between theater and reality… A looser, grittier film than their work of late, and while it’s more successful in the sequences of bold theatricality than in the faux-cinéma vérité of the surrounding scenes, the mix is nonetheless an interesting one… By far the best part of the film is the audition process, during which inmates are asked to supply personal data – name, date and place of birth, pre-incarceration residence – the first time in an emotionally distraught state and then again in defiant anger… There are enough powerfully raw moments to keep it gripping… The title character is played with amusing swagger and a roughneck Roman accent by burly Giovanni Arcuri, who is quite persuasive as a Caesar with delusions of immortality, heedless to the encroaching threat. The real heavy lifting, however, is done by Salvatore Striano as an impassioned Brutus… While the excerpts from the much-applauded public performance in a traditional auditorium are dynamic (switching back to color), it’s in rehearsals in such incongruous spaces as prison cells and corridors that the scenes from Shakespeare acquire new resonance…
— David Rooney, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
Now into their eighties, the Taviani brothers show with this remarkable, fresh and moving drama-documentary they have lost none of that mix of observational rigour and sympathy for the underdog that marked early films like Padre Padrone, their 1977 Palme d’Or winner. Caesar Must Die (Cesare Deve Morire) is a powerful prison drama about drama in prison: specifically, about a staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with a cast of prisoners from the high-security wing of Rome’s Rebibbia jail… Its hold on the audience comes from the pared-back, unshowy, understated way that it lets two strong stories – one by Shakespeare, and one about prison life – unfold with a minimum of interference… what gives Caesar Must Die real heft and resonance is the way the directors use the Shakespearian text, the prison setting, and the rehearsal process to blur the boundaries between drama and reality and to turn the Bard’s political tragedy into a film that makes resonant points about brotherhood, longing, regret and the pain of incarceration. In fact the Tavianis make the point that for a lifer, creative awakening can be a burden: as one of the film’s jailbird actors says, to camera, towards the end, “Since I discovered art, this cell has become a prison”.
— Lee Marshall, SCREEN INTERNATIONAL
An impressive variety of riches. Beginning with the end of the triumphant performance, and then flashing back to the start of casting and rehearsals, the film’s mere 76 minutes are more resonant than many far longer films, thanks to the way the Tavianis explore the complex relationship between life and art… The Tavianis’ subtle play with the shifting strata of reality and artifice ensures that nothing in the film can simply be taken at face value. In terms of meaning, it constantly operates on more than one level. Inevitably, then, Shakespeare’s tale of commitment, betrayal and power struggle is made to reflect not only on the dynamics of the prison population but on contemporary – and yes, more specifically, contemporary Italian – politics. As such, the film is entirely characteristic of the Tavianis in that it is a witty cautionary tale of failed idealism, revolutionary communal action, endless cyclical Utopianism and the value and concomitant cost of a commitment to art. As one inmate confides upon returning to his routine existence after the exhilaration of a rapturously received performance, ‘Ever since I discovered art, this cell has truly become a prison.’ Even at this stage in their lives and careers, the Tavianis remain deeply aware of such contradictions and paradoxes, and it’s this that makes ‘Caesar Must Die’ so humane, intelligent and affecting.
— Geoff Andrews, TIME OUT LONDON (UK)
One joy of the Berlinale was to witness a powerful comeback from Italian masters Paolo and Vittorio Taviani… Caesar Must Die is a present-day film about prisoners performing Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in jail. Able to weave in much of the prisoners' circumstances, the film's glory is their physical presence. The faces of these hardcore felons, shot in black and white, seem carved in granite, and are so in touch with the fiercer emotions that you never doubt the sincerity of the lines, even though every actor is at the least a born liar, let alone murderer or mafia hood.
— Nick James, THE GUARDIAN/THE OBSERVER (UK)
As you watch the film, one question that seems to come up repeatedly is whether this is a documentary with real footages, or a drama based on a true story. In the end, it becomes apparent that the answer does not matter, and the clever and deliberate blurring of the line between reality and drama is what makes the film so engrossing… As in Shakespeare's other tragedies, the themes of power, loyalty, betrayal, honor and revenge come through strongly in the play and consequently in the film… The cinematography by Simone Zampagni is exquisite… Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have therefore created a film about the production of a play that ends up more strongly affecting than the play itself, and that is very much an achievement.
— Hugo Ozman, TWITCH (Canada)