Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's Caesar Must Die looks and feels like a documentary. Shot mostly in black and white, the film follows inmates of Rome's high-security Rebibbia Prison as they rehearse and mount a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. But Caesar Must Die is actually a traditionally scripted movie. The actors are current and former inmates, and the harsh prison setting is real. With help from theater director Fabio Cavalli — who had previously worked with Rebibbia inmates on theatrical productions — the Taviani brothers imagined a narrative film about something that might have occurred organically at the same time and place. It's a unique concept, and one rife with potential for discovering deep connections between the lives of the inmates (many of whom worked for the mafia) and the tyranny and betrayal at the heart of Shakespeare's tragedy.
The directors also rethought the play for the medium of film and to suit the realities of the production. The actors and filmmakers worked together to translate the text into regional dialects native to individual actors, which must have added another layer of depth to the work — but not for those relying on re-translated English subtitles. Without the beauty of Shakespeare's original language, Caesar Must Die reduces Julius Caesar to its starkest essence. Brief but intense, this 76-minute film provides a rare glimpse of a hidden world, raw wounds and all. But there's no getting around the fact that we're essentially watching non-professional actors rehearse. The whole thing may succeed as an intellectual exercise, but it falls short as a film. — KEN KORMAN