Real prisoners playing themselves playing Shakespearean characters? Yep. Directors Paulo and Vittorio Taviani step inside the high security wing of an Italian prison to stage Julius Caesar, using real inmates in the cast. The Tavianis want you to get wrapped up in the shock that these prisoners are really talented actors. But it's okay if you don't.
pening with the last scenes of the play, where Brutus (played by Striano) pleads with his fellow plotters to kill him, before moving on to the actors returning to their cells after a standing ovation, the Tavianis then cut back to six months earlier, and to black and white, to where they build up to opening night. It's here they introduce the main actors, asking Striano, Rega, Arcuri et al in the auditions to state their name, their address, their town and their paternity. First they must do it in a tearful fashion and then they must do it with an angry delivery.
he directors hope that this will help us accept the prisoners as people first, putting their crimes to one side. However, it might have worked if they didn't immediately follow up this sequence with their respective lists of crimes and sentences superimposed under their images. Another odd decision that undercuts their efforts is to bookend the adaptation with the lock-up scene: their message that these obviously talented people are wasting away in prison would have hit harder if left to the end, a sting in the tail. Unfortunately, showing this at the beginning softens the blow. And no amount of lonely shots of Rega looking around his empty cell after a standing ovation will change the fact that these are dangerous men, deservedly serving their time.
s the director goes about his preparations, the cast throw themselves into the play. Striano and Rega, both members of the Camorra, must realise that their lines mirror their outside life, but it's Acuri's scene with Juan Dario Bonetti, as Caesar and Decio respectively, where it spills over into violence. Acuri uses Caesar's words to express how he really feels about the untrustworthy Bonetti. It's fun too when the guards get caught up in the rehearsals, letting them finish scenes so they can see how it turns out.
t's an interesting adaptation and works mainly because Shakespeare wrote a cracking play.