Old Republic Skullduggery Meets Modern Streets in Caesar Must Die


Spend some time among a gallery of noble busts depicting Roman senators, and familiar faces begin to emerge among the ancient marble: the mechanic, an uncle, a politician from TV . . . and the racketeer from the newspaper. It’s this last correlation that concerns Caesar Must Die. Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, the octogenarian brothers responsible for such lauded works as 1982’s The Night of the Shooting Stars, found late-career inspiration filming rehearsals (in black-and-white) and a performance (color) of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, one of several theatrical events hosted by and starring the high-security wing of Rome’s Rebibbia prison. Mark Antony’s funeral address to the polis is directed to the cell windows, from the exercise yard. This production’s Caesar, with the offhand manner of one accustomed to power, is a burly drug trafficker serving 17 years, while Cassius is doing life for murder. The Tavianis suggested the text and worked with actual Rebibbia theater director Fabio Cavalli. Almost as much as the play itself, the rehearsals are staged; the inmates learning to act, then, are acting like inmates who are learning to act. This leads to some on-the-nose scenes in which they observe the parallels between the text and their own lives, for skullduggery in the old Republic is not so far from that on the modern streets—a point that is already clear from the film’s very conception. But so solid is that conception, and so resonant the text in which questions of freedom and slavery are paramount, that the impact can hardly be diminished.