Cesar Must Die shows the rehearsal process of Julius Cesar in the Italian prison Rebibbia. It starts with the last scene of Shakespeare’s play. Brutus is killed by one of his allies, the circle is closed. The audience applauds, the theatre empties. Cut. The prisoners return to their cells.
The film connects the inmates’ personal stories via a typical Shakespearian tragedy about betrayal, murder and politics, themes that are closely related to them. One of the greatest features of the film is the blurred line between the real life and the play. Throughout the rehearsals, inmates sometimes step out of their roles and infiltrate their personal stories into the film’s narrative. However, there is not enough room for them in the film. Also, the aesthetic choices of switching from colour to black and white signifying the present and the past as well as distinguishing the performance and present situation of inmates from the rehearsals in the prison setting are too straightforward.
On stage Shakespeare’s language is challenging but proves to be much more so in the film. However the context of prison gives new meanings to the text, through which inmates tell their own stories via Shakespeare’s language without forcing their own personae on the viewer. One of the greatest strengths of Cesar Must Die is this subtlety between dramatic text and the real narrative.
The film ends with the same scene it started with. This duplicity is crucial for viewer’s understanding. At the beginning of the film, we do not know who the actors are and due to their amateur acting and traditional stage and props, the scene has a rather unprofessional feeling to it. However at the end, as a result of the knowledge of the context, the perception of the last scene changes to a great extent. We are looking at inmates/actors with their own personal stories and characters. This creates a real tragic Shakespearean atmosphere only to be enforced by inmates stepping out of their roles and returning to their lives in prison. One of the last lines of in the film summarizes it all, ‘Since I discovered art, my cell has become a prison.’