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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Ils sont venus, ils ont vu, les frères Taviani ont vaincu

by Jean Roy

They Came, They Saw, and the Taviani Brothers Conquered

Interview with Paolo and Vittorio Taviani

Translated Friday 26 October 2012, by Henry Crapo and reviewed by Bill Scoble

An emotional shock. It is one of the great films of the year which opens today, tops in intelligence, bringing faith in what is human. Don’t miss it.

One might expect to find them tired, worn out. And why not? One of the brothers, Paolo Taviani, was born in 1931, while his older brother, Vittorio Taviani, confesses to having been born in 1929. We are no longer at the beginning of their careers that began exactly fifty years ago: (1962: Un homme à brûler [1], nor even on the 15th of November, 1991, when we organized in Champigny, with them, with Bernard Tavernier and Gérard Legrand, a filmed round table, subsequently edited onto cassettes, on the future of cinema.

And yet, when we meet, after several months without seeing each other, when we meet these most recent recipients of the of Golden Bear award, last February in Berlin, the conversation catches fire as is usual with us. In the beautiful Italian language that is theirs, so melodious (which does not prevent them from speaking their brand of French on occasion), ideas cross each other, collide, complete one another. It is impossible for me to decide which of them pronounced any given sentence, so I give up trying.

May we have your news?

Paolo et Vittorio Taviani:
We have worked on various projects. It is now four and a half years during which we have done nothing, since our adaptation of the novel by Antonia Arslan, The Lark Farm.

How did things get unblocked?

Paolo et Vittorio Taviani:
There came a phone call from a friend who had gone to the theater a few days earlier, suggesting we go to a show presented in a prison; one day we found the opportunity to go there. It was the theater of the Rebibbia prison, a high security area, with a subway station, on the outskirts of Rome. We were stunned by what we saw and heard. Twenty prisoners, some in life-imprisonment, spoke. It was the tragedy of Paolo and Francesca in "Hell", in the Divine Comedy of Dante. You probably have heard the verses, but without understanding them. Now, hell is their prison. They are in complete desperation, they have not seen their wives for a long time, have not been able to caress them. They tell the story, each in their own dialect, occasionally comparing the text and their lives. We who are Tuscan grasp the harmony of Dante. But here, the lyrics have taken on a new life and we were very moved. This is where we decided that we needed to make a film to communicate the emotion.

Huma: And Shakespeare?

Paolo et Vittorio Taviani:
We had already loved in Hamlet Shakespeare’s way of presenting each character in dialogue. We talked to their director, Fabio Cavalli, who works full-time inside the prison. The meeting led us to propose Julius Caesar, of which one generally knows the opening scene, and the ending, but not the whole play. Julius Caesar is a Roman subject and prisoners are men of honor, as in Shakespeare. They are in the Mafia, the Camorra, the ’Ndrangheta, but they boast of being men of honor. You also know that term in French, which can be understood as an antiphrasis - using words contrary to their usual meaning. These prisoners live in the world of crime and this is integral to their character. Phrases like "You need to find in yourself the force that pushes you to kill," or "We want to find in this scene the movement of liberation" tell them something. It is a way to better the condition of our lives. When I recite, this says a lot about our relationships. Hence the choice of Shakespeare in this play, which allowed us to talk about crime, friendship and betrayal, the price of power, using not only their theater as scenery, but also their cells, the wings of the building or tunnels leading to the yard, which we also used.

The director of the prison rapidly joined the project?

Paolo et Vittorio Taviani:
In all American prison films, the director satisfies certain stereotypes. Here in our real prison, the director was an angel. He loves cinema, he was excited by the project, as he thinks it is good to do theater in prison, a process which is, remember, prior to our project. As a result, the film could be done in four weeks of filming, editing two months and a week of mixing, in great innocence and not working on Saturdays and Sundays. Thus, the film may suggest it was made in heaven, and it is true that in Italy there are theaters in twenty prisons, more than in France. However, the reality is different. There is much overcrowding and many suicides.

César doit mourirCaesar Must Die, by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Italy, 1hr 16min.

That Caesar must die, we are convinced, with the help of Shakespeare and the conspirators. But these words are put on stage in the mouth of detainees, some of whom may have been convicted of such crimes, giving the text a pregnant timeliness. Here, the word catharsis takes on its true dimension. And a healing sense for the inmates who are playing the roles. And 
the Taviani brothers who perform this wedding of the sixth and the seventh arts. With an intelligence and a dialectical sense that is breathtaking. Winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin, this film has never ceased to haunt us, like the spectre of 
 And now it has finally come to our screens.

[1A Man to Burn

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