Back in 1975, the leaders of the world’s six richest industrialised nations decided to get together for an informal chat about global economic policy. This summit proved so successful that it soon became a fixture of international politics and the Group of Six (or G6) was expanded into first the Group of Seven (G7) and then the Group of Eight (G8). Originally quite sedate and low-key affairs taking place in castles and luxury hotels, the G8 summits soon came to serve as focus points for people protesting against issues including globalisation and third world debt. The more people turned up to protest, the further leaders retreated behind layers of security and the more security placed on the streets, the more people felt obliged to protest. Set during the 2001 G8 summit in the Italian city of Genoa, Daniele Vicari’s Diaz – Don’t Clean Up This Blood explores the real life events leading up to one of the most grotesque abuses of police power in recent European history.
The film opens on images of a riot as a bank of masked protesters face off against a bank of police in riot gear. Trapped under a deluge of bottles and stones, the police want to baton-charge the protesters but their senior commander says no: the protesters have their backs against the wall and charging would only result in horrific death and injury. Opting instead to fire tear gas, the police disperse the crowd and the clearly aggravated and violent protesters disappear off into an urban landscape enlivened by what can only be called a post-apocalyptic carnival atmosphere.
Using a combination of real footage and dramatizations based upon first-person accounts of what it was like to be in Genoa at the time, Vicari transforms protesting Genoa into a beautifully nuanced world with no shared language, no real government and no fixed agenda. Indeed, while most of the people in Genoa are there for the protests, they all engage with the protests in different ways meaning that black bloc direct activists rub up against right-wing journalists, while guitar-playing hippies share their food with business people unable to find a hotel for the night. As free and democratic as this cultural space may seem, Vicari makes it absolutely clear that different agendas exist and one of his more impressive storytelling techniques sees him following one group into a particular event before reversing out and following another group’s path back into that same event. This not only shows how different sets of people interact with each other, it also spells out the tensions that existed both within the protest movement and the Italian police.
Having established the political, cultural and social diversity of Genoa’s protesting spaces, Vicari takes us to Police headquarters where a senior officer is organising a raid on what he considers to be a black bloc safe house. Still annoyed at being pelted with stones and bottles, the police storm the building and brutally subdue everyone inside it. Unfortunately, while the building in question may once have contained some black bloc activists, it only contained them because all the different types of people who happened to be in Genoa at the time were using it as a bunkhouse. Thus, rather than subduing and arresting a group of violent protesters, the Italian police brutalised an almost entirely blameless bunch of people including journalists, business people, local community organisers and innocent bystanders looking for a place to sleep. They beat these people and then they covered it up.
Vicari handles the raid with considerable panache as different people inside the building react to news of a police raid in entirely different ways: some try to barricade themselves in while others simply wander down towards police lines to identify themselves only to be beaten to a pulp for their troubles. Particularly brilliant is the sequence where a bunch of innocent bystanders stand in a corridor with their hands in the air trembling as the screams, shouts and thumps creep closer and closer until eventually the police rush down the corridor like a black tidal wave.
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.
Minor quibbles aside, this remains an elegant and insightful film that engages with a complex issue in a surprisingly complex manner. Streets ahead of such Hollywood ensemble pieces as Fernando Meirelles’ 360 and Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, Vicari’s Diaz has a lot to say and says it with considerable style and power.