Italian prison docu-drama ‘Caesar Must Die’ wins Berlin fest

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Italy’s veteran directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani won the Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival Saturday for "Caesar Must Die," a docu-drama about inmates at a high-security prison staging Shakespeare.

Filmed in black-and-white and color, the picture shows murderers and mafiosi playing the parts of Shakespeare’s tragedy "Julius Caesar," with their own personal dramas giving resonance to the play’s themes of betrayal and vengeance.

"We hope that when the film is released to the general public that cinemagoers will say to themselves or even those around them … that even a prisoner with a dreadful sentence, even a life sentence, is and remains a human being," Paolo Taviani, 80, said.

"Thanks to the sublime and simple words of Shakespeare, these prisoners for a few days came back to life. It was only a handful of days but they experienced passion and energy and I would like to dedicate this to them."

His brother Vittorio, 82, read out the names of the inmates who took part in the film as he accepted the prize from the jury president, British director Mike Leigh.

The Jury Grand Prix runner-up prize went to "Just the Wind" by Bence Fliegauf, which was inspired by the true story of a spree of shotgun killings of Roma in Hungary in 2008 and 2009.

"I met so many beautiful people working on the film — not just the crew but social workers, living in areas in Hungary where the Roma live — they altruistically help the people. I’d like to use the prize to put the focus on them," he said.

Rachel Mwanza of the Democratic Republic of Congo, appearing in her first movie, the Canadian child soldier drama "War Witch," accepted the Silver Bear award for best actress from jury member Jake Gyllenhaal.

It tells the story of Komona, a 12-year-old girl in a country strongly resembling DRC, who is snatched from her village by armed rebels, forced to gun down her parents and made her commander’s mistress.

Mwanza said after the warmly received screening Friday that she had been one of Kinshasa’s street children after bouncing from a life with her parents, then her grandmother and finally in a children’s home where she suffered abuse.

"I stand here because Mr Kim made it all possible. That is how I had the strength to do it all," she said as she picked up her prize.

Denmark’s Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, who played mad king Christian VII in a costume drama based on a true story, "A Royal Affair," picked up his trophy from Charlotte Gainsbourg, who also served on the jury.

The film, starring James Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen as the king’s personal physician who seduced his queen and with her plotted to bring revolutionary reforms to the tiny state, also won best screenplay for Nicolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg.

Germany’s Christian Petzold was named best director for "Barbara," a haunting drama about a woman plotting to escape communist East Germany which had been tipped to win at the 62nd Berlinale, the first major European film festival of the year.

"Caesar Must Die" emerged as an early crowd pleaser at the festival, which failed to produce a stand-out favorite. It was the first Golden Bear for Italy since 1991 when "The House of Smiles" by Marco Ferreri claimed the prize.

The Tavianis captured the Palme d’Or in Cannes for "Padre Padrone" in 1977, which also used amateur actors, as well as the Jury Grand Prix for "The Night of the Shooting Stars" in 1982.

And they picked up a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement in Venice in 1986.

Last year, the harrowing Iranian family drama "A Separation" captured the Golden Bear and swept the acting prizes and is now nominated for two Oscars. Its director Asghar Farhadi served on this year’s jury.

Other awards included the Alfred Bauer Prize for a work of particular innovation for the Portuguese melodrama "Tabu," an inventive two-part black-and-white melodrama set in contemporary Lisbon and colonial Africa about an illicit love affair.

German cameraman Lutz Reitemeier took an award for outstanding artistic contribution for his work on the Chinese epic "White Deer Plain" by Wang Quan’an.

And the jury gave a special Silver Bear to the Swiss drama "Sister" about a young Swiss boy who steals skis from a posh Alpine resort to support himself and his older sibling.

German director Christian Petzold holds the Silver Bear for Best Director for the film “Barbara.” (AFP Photo / Gerard Julien)

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