If it’s October, it must be time for the NY Film Festival. Therese and I live close to Lincoln Center, the home for the festival, and on Monday we went to our first festival screening for this year, “Caesar Must Die,” directed by Italian filmmakers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani. The film is really a film-within-a-film, for it documents the rehearsals and performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar put on by inmates of Rebibbia Prison in Rome, Italy.
In the movie, we see the prison theater program’s director, Fabio Cavalli, instructing his actor/inmates on how to play the parts. For example, he encourages them to speak the lines in their own dialect – and one gets the impression that there is quite a bit of license taken in adapting the text (and the play) for this production. This is refreshing, for as much as Shakespeare is adapted by companies in the U.S., there is frequently an awkwardness in the delivery of the text in our performances that is certainly not present here. Then we see the inmates acting out scenes from the play in dramatic settings within the prison complex. The prison theater being under renovation at the time, it was necessary to move the rehearsals to places like the prison courtyard, but the settings bring gravity to the scenes that one cannot imagine would have existed in the comparatively safe and banal confines of a conventional theater. The central conceit, that hardened criminals bring new meaning to a play centered around mortal crime and its consequences, is borne out by the inmates’ performances, which are full of intensity and a sense of the violence with which they are all too comfortable.
The screening of the Taviani’s film was held in the Francesca Beale Theater within the relatively new Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (which opened in June 2011). The Munroe Film Center also houses the Howard Gilman Theater and the Film Center Amphitheater as well as the Indie Food and Wine cafe. For our screening, we elected just to have a snack, Junior Mints (my usual dairy free film snack) with club soda, which we purchased from a counter in the cafe. At future screenings, we may have time to enjoy an accompanying meal, either at Indie Food or next door at Lincoln Ristorante.
With the addition of the Monroe Center and its three theaters, 65th street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue in Manhattan is now one of the preeminent film centers in New York City and perhaps the country. While the Monroe Center resides on the south side of the street, on the north side is the Walter Reade Theater (taken together, these venues house the Film Society of Lincoln Center). Then on the corner of 65th and Broadway is Alice Tully Hall’s Starr Theater, where the main events for the Film Festival take place. For serious film fans, 65th street is the place to be, not just in October, but throughout the year!