“Since I got to know art,” says Cosimo Rega, an inmate at Rebibbia Prison in Italy, “this cell has become a prison.” Rega plays Cassio—or Cassius—in a very abridged Italian-language adaption of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and he’s great. In fact, one wonders whether he could have been an actor.
Instead, as we see in Caesar Must Die, he’s doing life in prison and acting in a prison production. His sort-of confession is sad, but the corniness of the direct-to-camera declaration nearly undermines what has come before it.
But lots of good moments come before it. The movie opens with Brutus, played by inmate Salvatore Striano, on stage in full costume, during Brutus’ final living moments.
All the inmates are at least competent in the play, but some stand out, including Striano, Rega and Giovanni Arcuri, who plays Caesar. Antonio Frasca, as Marc Antony, is also excellent.
The movie follows the actor-inmates as they rehearse, and real-life moments occur—guards bicker over whether to end rehearsal because free-time is over—that remind us we’re in a prison with real inmates. But the text is the thing—or the play is, to borrow from another Shakespeare play—and the more time Caesar Must Die spends on it, the better.
CAESAR MUST DIE
Directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
With Cosimo Rega, Salvatore Striano and Giovanni Arcuri