Deceptively modest on nearly all accounts, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani's Caesar Must Die employs seemingly minor directorial contrivances to ruminate on a unique quarrel.
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The result feels, like Shakespeare's play, at once ancient and dangerously new.
The Taviani brothers, Paolo and Vittorio, have been blurring the line between reality and fiction in their films for six decades.
In a scant hour and a quarter it enlarges your notion of what theater and cinema, what art itself, can do — it dissolves every boundary it meets.
This is 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.
Though the Tavianis’ intent is clear—to comment on the thin line separating part and performer, as well as on the quite literally liberating powers of art—the meanings rarely emerge with any elegance or resonance. Hardly a dish fit for the gods.
There’s an elemental, almost primitive quality to the Tavianis’ condensing that, at its most effective, dovetails with the prison’s severely circumscribed material reality, as if the high walls, barred windows and suffocating rooms were manifestations of the characters’ states of mind.
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.
In Caesar Must Die, the characters are both actor and audience, looking at themselves through the lens of a centuries-old fictionalization of history.