Monday, 25 November 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Diaz: Don't Clean Up This Blood

Directed by: Daniele Vicari

Produced by: Domenico Procacci

Screenplay by: Laura Paolucci

Story by: Daniel Vicari

Starring: Claudio Santamaria
Jennifer Ulrich
Elio Germano
Davide Iacopini

Music by: Toho Teardo

Cinematography by: Gherardo Gossi

Editing by: Benny Atria

Studio(s): Fandango
Le Pacte
Mandragora Movie

Distributed by: Fandango
Universal Pictures (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): April 13, 2012 (Italy)
June 10, 2013 (United Kingdom, straight-to-DVD)

Running time: 127 minutes

Country: Italy

Language: Italian

Production budget: (N/A)

Box-office revenue: (N/A)

Aloha, I wish I was saying that from the Promenade in Nice at the end of July, because as it stands, or rather sits, here in Belfast it is getting pretty nippy and what with having just taken down a lot Christmas decorations (every year I forget how much my mother has), I'm glad to get off my feet. Good thing is, aside from walking the dog, I'm not too fussed on leaving the house and quite content to sit in with a cup of tea and a good movie. Speaking of good movies, I attended the annual Cinemagic Mark Kermode Film Night, in which The Good Doctor presents a movie after a Q&A with Brian Martin. The movie: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, something I hadn't seen before, and while my mother loathed (quote: "when the dragons were flying about I thought 'is someone taking the piss out of me?'") but I thought was just great and with a genuinely adventurous sensibility. So, for all the latest and greatest in movies and an assortment of relatively trivial updates, keep your eyes posted.

So, today's movie up for review is Diaz: Don't Clean Up This Blood, the context of which provides for an interesting (to me, anyway) story. As is regular, I peruse the shelves of DVD stores like a ghost haunting their relatives, forever looking for something to catch me out, always reading the small print at the back for the corresponding year so I can review it. This one I saw sitting on the shelves of HMV being sold on two for £10, and because I had a bit of money, I did my iMDB release date search, which is essentially the factor in okaying a review for me, and so I got this, The Hunt, A Prophet and Dazed And Confused. I knew absolutely nothing about this movie going into it, and frankly I feel that's often how I like seeing a movie the most, going in with a blank slate, so, if you don't want to read the synopsis and watch the film that way, skip to the next paragraph now. This Italian film is set 2001 around the final days of the G8 summit in Genoa, where police committed a night raid on a school on the pretext of looking for black bloc demonstrators, attacking activists and journalists, in what Amnesty International called, "The most serious suspension of democratic rights in a Western country since the Second World War." Got it? Good, let's bounce!

Starting with the good about Diaz, I have to mention that it is one of the most masterfully structured films to come out over the past year. The script is a real thing of concise efficiency, and is a fine example of a classical screenplay. Fundamentally, it is a rather simple three-act structure, but it is utilised to great effect here, each act having it's own purpose and co-existing with the rest of the piece. Also in this regard, the ensemble nature of the film is well-balanced. None of the characters are two-dimensional, nearly all of them being given a backstory of some sort, and also their stories are not done in a basil exposition manner, but told in a discreet manner, keeping their lives firmly entrenched in the moment(s) of the present. It's refreshing to see a movie of this balance, so that it's not some bleeding-heart propagandistic drivel with the noble leftie-beatnik types going up against the faceless forces of oppressive law enforcement, but instead, on both sides, the characters have depth and are empathetic. As such, this gives the actors who are playing the parts a chance to flex their muscles and actually do something with the characters. Claudio Santamaria is terrific as Max Flamini, one of the main policemen involved with the riot squad, depicting his internal conflict (he voiced his disapproval of the raid and is shown to act in the safest most pragmatic manners possible) at doing his job and being surrounded by his colleagues committing horrible acts. Also, Jennifer Ulrich, who plays activist Alma, delivers a fine performance, the violence around her utterly shell-shocking her peace and love ethos. I will not spoil the film by way this, but the final shot of Ulrich's Alma is a moment of utter cinematic revelation that really tugs at your heart. As a whole, the ensemble is reminiscent of the best of Robert Altman, neatly balanced and none dominating the proceedings. Another praiseworthy aspect of the film is that it is a brilliant sounding movie. Often deprived by several filmmakers and studios, sound design is to me a key aspect of the filmmaking process, and here full advantage is taken of it's possibilities. Although entrenched in reality, the sounds of violence and protest come to the fore, with the voices of dissent and angry protesters being accentuated. Also, during the raid, though it is undoubtedly visually vicious, I doubt that the battering that activists receive from the riot squad would have felt so brutal if the sound of the truncheons smashing off their bodies didn't have such a 'thunk!', if you will. In terms of the aesthetic craft of the movie, that too is appropriate and stylistically done well. The cinematography and editing are both of a really high standard, not only done with great panache and depicting the onslaught of the raid with such blunt force, but also telling for the rest of the movie a great story. Earlier in the month, Paul Greengrass released Captain Phillips, a great thriller, but I personally feel that Diaz outdoes Greengrass one, and is reminiscent in it's best moments of Greengrass' seminal picture Bloody Sunday. It's technically very much of that Greengrass mold, who of course was influenced by the likes of Alan Clarke and Ken Loach. Ultimately though, Daniele Vicari, who does a fine job in directing this picture, is of the same tradition of the neo-realists of his home country, such as Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. This is one of the most efficient and solidly directed works I have seen over the past twelve months, and though I have yet to see any of the rest of his filmography, I would be willing to say that Daniele Vicari is a director worth watching out for.

Now, while I do think this movie is great, I don't think it is quite a masterpiece, and it's not because it has any glaring faults or weaknesses, but rather a collection of little things that stuck out. For instance, though I do not think the music by Toho Teardo is not itself of a poor quality, and his music is perfect for the final shot, some of it's use during 'dramatic' scenes is unnecessary, for the absence of music is in and of itself rather jarring. Also, while I think it's a symbolically great image that establishes the film in thought-provoking fashion, I don't think that we needed to keep going back to the bottle being thrown in order to get what was going on and the movement of the film's timeline: the audience is far more intelligent than 'reminders' like that. 

Despite these little things that detract from it and interestingly I've been reading reviews for the film, which range from those thinking it's a great, bold piece of filmmaking and those who think it is bland and self-indulgent. It's a film that had a real mixed bag in terms of reception, and seeing as how I'm certainly not on the fence on this one, I have to fall in the category of the former. Diaz really took me by surprise with how strong a movie it is. The script is a classically structured, well-balanced work that is Altmanesque at it's best and the ensemble cast performing it are uniformly solid. Also, technically it's a stylistically interesting film, with the sound design, cinematography and editing harking towards the best of Paul Greengrass. But furthermore, the tight direction of Daniel Vicari is of the tradition of the neo-realists De Sica and Rossellini, telling a classical story that has something to say about society, people and human nature. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (literally speaking: I am detesting this change of temperature)

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