“A unique experience”
by Fabien Lemercier
- Italian veterans Paolo and Vittorio Taviani describe their incredible immersion in the Roman prison of Rebibbia to make Caesar Must Die.
The famous Taviani brothers, the octagenarians who notably won at Cannes in 1977, have made a surprising come-back with Caesar Must Die [+see also:
interview: Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
film profile], an extraordinary cinematography experience about Shakespeare's theatre in a high-security Roman prison. The film was met with enthusiasm at the 62nd Berlinale where it was screened for the first time as part of the competition.
You consider Shakespeare as one of your major references. Why?
Paolo Taviani: We say jokingly that Shakespeare has been a father, a brother, and a son to us. During our childhood, he was a myth: we read his work, we glimpsed at his greatness, and used the instruments that he gave us in our work. His work is so accessible that we have always felt very close to it, in the same way that feel close to a brilliant elder brother. Because we can never say it enough: It is very important to discover Shakespeare over and over again. Now that we have become older, we decided that we could change Shakespeare a little bit, deconstruct him to rebuild him in a different way. We did it for cinema, a world quite different from Shakespeare's. We also thought that it would be a good idea to set up this play in prison.
Why exactly did you choose the play Julius Caesar ?
Vittorio Taviani: Everything started by chance. One of our friends told us that a play in a prison had moved him to tears, something that rarely happened to him. We went to see it. We were in a high security facility with Mafia criminals performing Dante's Inferno. They themselves where in the hell of imprisonment and completely identified to their characters. Everybody knows what being in prison means and American films portray them in a certain way. But when you go to a prison and you start to work with the prisoners, you create a certain bond, a certain closeness, as you try to understand them. We practically became friends with them, but at one point, someone told us, "They're criminals, be careful!" But you can still feel compassion for them because you know that they are suffering for whatever they have done. So we asked ourselves what we could do for them, how we could show their reality. And we thought that Julius Caesar might be a good choice. Everybody knows the story of Brutus and we wondered how the text would translate into the Napolitan dialect of these "men of honour". They were simultaneously in their own world and in Shakespeare's. The play is about the power, betrayal, and assassination of a leader. We thought that perhaps we could include their experiences, their personnalities, and their realities into the play. This is because their lives are dramatic, and we could link them to Brutus' destiny for example. They could easily identify with these characters. With the film, we wanted to show life, the trauma lived by these prisoners, violence, suffering, failure, grief. Because prison is a terrible experience.
How did you choose your actors?
Paolo Taviani: When we met these actors, they were both prisoners and actors. Fabio Cavalli helped us a lot as a theatre director who has dedicated a whole part of his life to theatre in prisons. He gave us the opportunity to meet some of the inmates. Then we chose some of them. During the auditions and the repetitions, they gave their real names, not pseudonyms, they cried, they became angry, although they knew that it was all for a film to be seen in Italian cinemas. We were very surprised by this and by the fact that they were very good actors, even if a little conventional. When the actor says "I will kill Caesar," there is a pain that would not exist with a usual actor, as we can feel his past. These detained actors were capable of communicating in a very emotional manner.
Why did you make this film in black and white?
Vittorio Taviani: Today, there are so many naturalist representations with images in colour. We wanted to show something else: what was in the soul of these people. This is why we chose the non-realism of black and white. For us, all that was a unique experience. When we entered the prison for the first time, it was like entering a new world. The complexity of human destiny is very mysterious.