Directors Paolo Taviani and Vittorio Taviani received the Golden Bear award out of 18 contenders at what is the first of the year's major European film festivals. The Taviani brothers, both in their early 80s, thanked the international jury led by British director Mike Leigh and sent their greetings to the inmates of Rome's Rebibbia prison, including former mafia leaders, who starred in the film.
"I hope that someone, going home, after seeing 'Caesar Must Die' will think that even an inmate, on whose head is a terrible punishment, is, and remains, a man. And this thanks to the sublime words of Shakespeare," Vittorio Taviani said.
The two filmmakers spent six months following the rehearsals for the play. The documentary does not dwell on the crimes the inmates have committed, but shows the actors immerse themselves in the play's web of friendship and betrayal, power, dishonesty and violence. But after the premiere, the cell doors slam shut behind Caesar, Brutus and the others, leaving them to return to their lives behind bars.
"We chose 'Julius Caesar' for one clear reason. We were working in a prison, that meant it was easy to get the message across with this play where actors are talking about freedom, about tyranny, about assasinations, and murder," Paolo Taviani said through a translator.
The festival's runner-up Silver Bear went to Hungarian director Bence Fliegauf for "Just the Wind," which focuses on the lives of a family of Roma as their community faces a series of deadly attacks.
The film features an amateur Roma, or Gypsies, cast and depicts the long-suffering, grimly silent mother Mari (Katalin Toldi), her elderly invalid father and two children who struggle to make ends meet and dream of emigrating one day to Canada – against the quietly menacing backdrop of a series of killings in their out-of-the-way neighborhood.
The film takes its cue from true-life murders that happened in 2008-9, though Fliegauf has stressed that it does not document those killings.
Roma, who make up an estimated 5-8 percent of Hungary's 10 million people, battle deep prejudice and have been deeply affected by the loss of guaranteed jobs after the end of communism more than 20 years ago.
The Silver Bear for best actor went to Mikkel Boe Folsgaard for his role in "Royal Affair," and the award for the best actress went to Rachel Mwanza, 14, for her role as a Congolese child soldier in "War Witch."
The Silver Bear for the best director went to German filmmaker Christian Petzold for "Barbara," which depicts the life of a young physician in the 1980s who wants to escape from then communist East Germany to join her lover in West Germany.
The festival's eight-member jury also included actor Jake Gyllenhaal and Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director of last year's Golden Bear-winning film, "A Separation."
Farhadi's film won best foreign language film honors at the Golden Globes last month and is competing for the same award at this year's Oscars.
Outside the main competition, about 400 films were screened, and the Berlinale festival's highlights included Meryl Streep being honored for her lifetime achievement and Angelina Jolie's directorial debut, the Bosnian war movie "In the Land of Blood and Honey."