Scene one: Bright, flattering lights, a captivating performance space, the words of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” coat the air in authentic Italian accents.
Scene two: A hoary, decrepit Italian prison harboring various dangerous and life-worn criminals from all around the Europe, small impersonal cells, bars on windows, wardens and lifeless prison guards… the works.
These two scenes can’t possibly have anything to do with each other. Or can they?
Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s film latest film, “Caesar Must Die,” takes place in the Rebibbia prison in Rome where a gang of maximum security prisoners are cast in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” The movie follows the interesting audition and rehearsal process through up until their final performance.
The concept of this movie is definitely intriguing. Italian prison inmates performing Shakespeare? It’s kind of hard not to be curious. It’s a shame that the movie itself is all around confusing and lackluster. There is no clear conflict, plot or goal of this film. The only thing the audience can follow is the production process – nothing deeper.
It also poses too many questions that the audience shouldn’t have to mull over. Are we really watching actors perform in this movie or did we actually have the rare privilege of seeing the original prison inmates? Or a cool combination of both? To be honest, it isn’t totally clear, even after the film is over. Also, it’s not entirely clear if the film is a documentary or not. The audience is constantly nagged with uncertainty. Some parts of the movie seems so real, yet other parts are so hilariously staged that there’s no question that this is an actual feature film.
The other positively irking part of this movie – the film does not shed any light on the characters beyond what they were in prison for and their rehearsals. We know nothing about who these characters are, yet we follow them throughout the entire film. It’s understandable that the directors wanted to focus on the prison rehearsal process and the actual show; but as audience members – human beings, really – we crave information so we can connect with them in some way. This film makes it impossible to relate on any level.
The film’s only redeeming quality is the superb Shakespearean acting. Whether the actors in the film were paid to portray these roles or we were actually watching the inmates perform – they were still superb. All of the actors have an amazing sense of ease and truth while performing. It’s clear to see that they deeply cared about what they were portraying and that was refreshing to say the least.
When it comes down to it, this film is… uninteresting. If you have the burning, insatiable desire to see it, go for the concept, go for the Shakespearean acting, but bring a crossword and prepare for 77 minutes of boring.
Speakeasy Rating C-
“Caesar Must Die”