The theater in Rome’s Rebibbia Prison. A performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar has just ended amidst rapturous applause. The lights dim on the actors and they become prisoners once again as they’re accompanied back to their cells.
Six months earlier. The warden and a theater director speak to the inmates about a new project, the staging of Julius Caesar in the prison. The first step is casting. The second step is exploring the text. Shakespeare’s universal language helps the inmates-actors identify with their characters. The process is long and full of anxiety, hope, and fun. These are the feelings that accompany the inmates at night in their cells after each rehearsal. Who is Giovanni who plays Caesar? Who is Salvatore-Brutus? For what crimes have they been imprisoned? The film does not hide this. Wonder and pride for the play do not always free the inmates from the exasperation of being incarcerated. Their angry confrontations put the show in danger. On the anticipated but feared opening night, the audience is large and diversified: inmates, actors, students, and directors. Julius Caesar is brought back to life but this time, on a stage inside a prison. It’s a success.
The inmates return to their cells, even “Cassius”, one of the main characters, one of the best. He has been in prison for many years, but tonight his cell feelsdifferent, hostile. He remains still. Then he turns, looks into the camera, and says: “Since I have known art, this cell has turned into a prison”.