FilmJuice have my review of Daniele Vicari’s topical ensemble drama Diaz: Don’t Clean Up This Blood.
Set during the 2001 G8 protests in the Italian city of Genoa, the film tells the real-life story of one of the most outrageous abuses of police power in European history. The action focuses upon a pair of buildings that served as both a media center and a dormitory for people who happened to be in Genoa during the protests. Believing the buildings to be full of black bloc anarchists, the Italian police stormed in, beat everyone to a pulp and then dragged a number of people away to jail where they were humiliated, assaulted and tortured by not just police but also police doctors.
The structure of this film is faintly reminiscent of such ensemble dramas as Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion and Fernando Meirelles’ 360 (Which I recently reviewed for Videovista). However, while these Hollywood productions are very similar to anthology pictures in so far as they are collections of more-or-less self-contained narratives, Diaz: Don’t Clean Up This Blood departs from this model by using the different strands of the the narrative to explore the same event from different perspectives. Rather than resorting to anything as clunking as a time-stamp, Vicari allows history to unfold up to a single moment — someone throwing a bottle — and signals our return to the past by having the bottle re-assemble itself and return to the hand of the person who threw it. Aside from being incredibly elegant, this narrative technique works brilliantly in context as it allows Vicari to explore the extent to which the shared spaces of the protest mean different things to different people: For an elderly man trapped in Genoa overnight, the buildings are a safe place to sleep. For the journalists covering the protests, they are somewhere to file copy and conduct interviews. For the Black Bloc, they are a place to hide and draw up plans. This plurality of experience and perception is both brilliantly handled and intensely refreshing in a medium that all too often either avoids ambiguity like the plague or confuses it with evasiveness. Diaz Don’t Clean Up This Blood is a wonderfully ambiguous film because it presents you with several incompatible and yet entirely consistent viewpoints on the same series of events. Then the ambiguity goes away:
The final third of the film is spent exploring the mistreatment and torture meted out to the victims of the raid by police and police doctors and it is here that the film ultimately stumbles. The problem is that, while the bulk of the film is intensely humanistic and diverse in its exploration of different perspectives on the same events, Vicari’s coverage of the aftermath of the raid abandons nuance in favour of stark moralism: These are not the over-emotional and ill-informed police officers of the opening scene, these are cold and calculating psychopaths who humiliate and torture people because they know that they can do so with complete impunity. While there is no reason to doubt the brutality of the Italian police or the veracity of their victims’ claims, it is jarring when a film about understanding suddenly transforms into a film about condemnation.
One of the interesting things about Diaz that I did not have space to touch on in my review is the fact that while Vicari feels quite comfortable portraying the police as psychopathic Nazis, he is almost flawlessly even-handed when it comes to portraying the actions of the Black Bloc. In Diaz, the Black Bloc are a bunch of kids from all over Europe who descend on protest areas, stir shit up and then promptly retreat before the inevitable government response. Indeed, while the Black Bloc did indeed use the buildings that the police raid, Vicari goes out of his way to show them hiding in a nearby cafe while innocent by-standers get beaten to a pulp.
Why are we allowed to sympathise with the Black Bloc’s cowardice but not with the anger of the police?
One to this question is that while the Black Bloc’s actions contain enough moral ambiguity for there to be differences of opinion about them, nobody in their right mind would consider it acceptable for a police doctor to sexually assault a left-wing activist while the police singing fascist battle anthems. Indeed, one of the problems with liberalism and tolerance is that it’s very difficult to make any kind of moral judgement once you allow for the fact that all humans are fallible products of their environment and most people do what they do because they think it’s the right thing at the time. Diaz is an intensely humane and liberal film and yet its problematic final act shows that there must be limits to even the most pluralistic and tolerant of personal philosophies. I’m not convinced that Vicari handles the movement between ambiguity and certainty all that well but it is nice to see a film that attempts to address those types of moral problems.