Italy Selects Berlin Golden Bear Winner 'Caesar Must Die' as Oscar Candidate

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The selection process in Italy had been more closely watched this year than in the past because of a crop of strong films seen as possible contenders.

ROME – Cesare deve morire (Caesar Must Die), the Berlin Golden bear winning drama about prison inmates performing a version of  William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, has been selected as Italy’s official candidate for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, it was announced Wednesday.

With a crop of strong domestic productions this year, the decision of which film audiovisual association ANICA would select as its Oscar recommendation was more closely watched this year than in most years. Cesare deve morire, directed by the venerable duo of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, was selected over a short list of nine other films announced by ANICA Sept. 17.

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Notwithstanding the 10-film short list, there were three films seen as having the inside track for the honor: Cannes jury prize winner Reality from Matteo Garrone, euthanasia drama Bella Adormentata (Dormant Beauty) from Marco Bellocchio, and Cesare deve morire.

In the end, though, industry insiders said Reality may have been hurt by distributor Fandango’s decision not to release the film earlier: though it screened in Cannes in May, it will not open in Italy until Friday, perhaps a bet that the opening might have enjoyed a box office bounce had it been selected. And Bella Adormentata, which won critical acclaim screening in competition in Venice earlier this month, was likely hurt after it failed to land any major prizes on the Lido.

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Cesare deve morire is unusual because it used actual prison inmates as actors in the film -- the cast includes no professional actors -- with strong performances coaxed from them from the Taviani brothers’ unusual style in which each one directs alternate scenes with the other only looking on. The brothers have never worked separate from the other on any official film project.

The Hollywood Reporter critic David Rooney, who reviewed Cesare deve morire in Berlin, called the film “a stimulating marriage between theater and harsh reality” in which the Tavianis “return closer to the docudrama hybrid territory of their 1977 international breakthrough Padre Padrone,” a reference to the harsh coming of age drama honored in both Berlin and Cannes ahead of a strong run even beyond Italy's borders.

Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, aged 80 and 83, respectively, have won scores of honors in careers that date back nearly 60 years, including multiple awards from Berlin, Cannes, Venice, and Italy’s David di Donatello awards. But if Cesare deve morire is selected as one of the five films vying for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film it would be a first for the Tavianis.

A total of 27 Italian films have been officially nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film, second only to France. And with 13 winners, Italy has taken home the award more than any other country, though it has not won it since 1999, when Roberto Benigni’s La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful) won the prize.

The last time an Italian film was selected as a finalist for the honor was in 2005, when La bestia nel cuore (The Beast in the Heart) from Cristina Comencini was selected; Tsotsi from South African director Gavin Hood won the prize that year.

Countries are required to submit their candidates by Oct. 1. The Oscar ceremony itself is scheduled for Feb. 24, 2013.