It is hard to believe this film contains acting performances from inmates and not seasoned professional actors.
An excellent , well thought out review from Peter French sets out the influence of the veteran producers of this remarkable undertaking to humanise the outcasts of modern nationhood.
"Before the emergence of the Coens, the Farrellys, the Hugheses and the Wachowskis, there were the Taviani brothers, Paolo and Vittorio, born in Pisa in respectively 1931 and 1929, the sons of a lawyer jailed for his anti-fascist activities. Coming out of Italian neorealism and the French new wave, adapting works by Tolstoy and Pirandello and much influenced by Brecht, they emerged in the late 60s. Theirs was a humanist cinema that reached out socially and chronologically, from an aristocrat disillusioned with revolution in early 19th-century Lombardy to the idealistic inhabitants of a Tuscan village standing up against the Nazis in 1944."There emerges a pattern of the list of prisoners , we have mostly inhabitants from the South of Italy , some from Naples , an Argentinian , some others from the countryside outwith Rome , Nigerians make an appearance ,and only two Romans.It seems it is the outside alien that fails to escape the Justice system , those with the least resources of access to legal defence in a system in which you can literally buy Freedom in the high financial and political circles.
Hence the choice of the play may be scene by those with the gift of underlying barely perceptible metaphor to see a comment on the scene of a nation in which the lines between Politicians and Criminal is blurred , event upto and including the highest elected President in some cases.
There are some overly contrived instances in the film which , if anything, detract and distract from the already amazing scenario the viewer is watching , somewhat taking away the gently building substance of a story that needs not to be embellished.More subtle are the use of colour and black-and-white to contrast the life of captivity from the moments of performance on stage to the public.
The brilliant Peter French captures the mood and grasp of the film in this review.
"The movie begins and ends with the last moments of Julius Caesar, performed on a stage in rough costumes and in colour. In between, it's shot in harsh black-and-white, which the Tavianis actually believe is less realistic than colour. We see the striking auditions where each would-be actor gives his name, age and address straight to camera twice, first as if he was speaking to customs officers, then as if saying farewell to his family. This is followed by the principal actors discovering their characters with the director, who insists on them sticking to their regional accents. In one arresting moment a Camorra strong-arm man says "Naples" instead of "Rome", and explains: "It seems as if this Shakespeare was walking the streets of my own city." In another, the imposing Caesar, who looks like (and probably is) a mafia capo, turns on Decius, the conspirator dispatched to bring him to the Senate, as if he were a genuine traitor luring him to his death. Briefly they step outside the rehearsal cell ready for a fight. This is a pared-down production in which the roles of Calphurnia and Portia have been dropped, and there's a touching (if clearly staged) moment when one of the actors runs a hand over a seat in the auditorium and says to himself: "Maybe a woman will sit on it."