Berlin 2012: 'Caesar Must Die' Wins Golden Bear Award

Caesar Must Die Berlin Film Still - H 2012
Umberto Montiroli

The Italian docudrama shows the staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar in a maximum security prison in Rome.

BERLIN – In a major upset, the Italian docudrama Caesar Must Die from directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani has won the Golden Bear for best film at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival.

The brothers are known for their literary costume dramas such as The Night of Shooting Stars (1982) but in Caesar Must Die, the Italian directing veterans explore the porous boundaries between art and life.

Caesar was not a front-runner in any of the pre-awards tip sheets but it evidently won over the Berlinale Jury, headed by jury president Mike Leigh.

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The film looks at a staging and performance of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at Rome’s maximum security prison Rebibbia, with the inmates playing all the roles.

"Reading Shakespeare, the actors, these prisoners, are talking about freedom, about political power and corruption, about violence and murder," the Italian directors explained. "They saw the lines were not just lines, they were part and parcel of their lives inside."

While Caeser Must Die is designed as a drama, all the inmates use their real names and recite their real life stories when they are introduced at the beginning of the film.

"We said they could use any name they like and make up biographical details but none did, they all told their real stories," said Paolo Taviani. "They realized this film would be seen in theaters, maybe by people, by friends, who had forgotten them. This was their way of crying out: We're here! We're alive!"

In addition to Berlin's top honor, Caesar Must Die also won the best film honor presented by the independent ecumenical jury at the festival. Adopt Films has picked up the film for U.S. release.

Danish costume drama A Royal Affair from director Nikolaj Arcel was the only multiple winner at this year’s Berlinale, scooping the best actor silver bear for Mikkel Boe Folsgaard as the slightly mad Danish king Christian VII. Writers Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg won the silver bear for best screenplay for their true-life tale of a royal physician, played by Mads Mikkelsen, who starts and affair with the Danish queen (Alicia Vikander). Magnolia will bow A Royal Affair stateside.

Folsgaard, who is still at acting school in Copenhagen, joked next week he would be back home "taking tap dancing lessons."

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Leigh and his jury - which included actors Jake Gyllenhaal, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Barbara Sukowa; directors François Ozon, Asghar Farhadi and Anton Corbijn and Algerian writer Boualem Sansal - handed Berlin’s jury prize to the Hungarian film Just the Wind from director Bence Fliegauf. The films takes the real-life story of a murderous campaign against Roma in Hungary to spin a touching drama about human rights.The film also won the Amnesty International film prize and the Peace Film award presented in Berlin.

"This is truly a great honor," said Fliegauf. "But the reason I made this film was to help the people who work with the Roma people. I hope this film can somehow help them to finance their work. That's very important. Much more important than just talking about it."

German director Christian Petzold won Berlin’s best directing silver bear for Babara, a film most had thought would scoop the top prize. The period drama, set in communist East Germany, stars Nina Hoss as a doctor who is banned to the countryside as punishment after requesting a visa to leave to the West. The movie also won the top prize awarded by readers of Berlin newspaper the Berliner Morgenpost. 

But the veteran actress Hoss lost out to first-timer Rachel Mwanza, who took the best actress Silver Bear for her wrenching performance as a child solider forced to fight and kill in Kim Nguyen’s African civil-war drama War Witch.

The 14-year-old Mwanza, who was discovered by Nguyen on the streets of Kinshasa and cast in the film, provided the emotional highlight of the awards show - bouncing up and down in obvious delight when her name was called.

Sister from Swiss filmmaker Ursula Meier, the story of two poor kids who steal skis from a luxury Alpine resort won a special Silver Bear for the film.

German cameraman Lutz Reitemeier won a silver bear for extraordinary artistic contribution for his lensing of Wang Quan'an's Chinese period drama White Deer Plain.

The Alfred Bauer Prize, given in honor of the Berlinale’s founder for a work of particular innovation, went to the Portuguese black-and-white drama Tabu from director Miguel Gomes, the most stylistically adventurous of the Berlin competition titles. Tabu also won the Fipresci award presented by the European association of film critics.

"It's strange to win a prize for innovation, when I thought I was making a very old-fashioned film," said Gomes, a former film critic, at the press conference following the awards. "Maybe these days, making old-fashioned films is very modern."

Outside the main competition, two of the big winners at this year's Berlinale were the Dutch film Kauwboy from Boudewijn Koole, which took the best first feature award; and the Serbian farce The Parade, the story of an unusual friendship between a macho Mafioso and a gay veternarian, which won the audience award for films screening in Berlin's Panorama section.