Review: Berlusconi's Mousetrap

In July 2001 over a quarter of a million people gathered to protest against the G8 in Genoa. The Italian state responded to these demonstrations with violent repression. Eighteen thousand cops were drafted into the city; they beat and gassed thousands of people off the streets, arrested hundreds and shot one young Italian man in the head.

Berlusconi's Mousetrap is a feature length documentary produced by Irish Indymedia about the events in Genoa. The film is based on footage shot by Irish Indy media and some film culled from the International Indymedia archive. It is obvious watching the documentary that considerable effort has gone into the selection and editing of the footage as well as the sourcing and translation of Italian material for the film. The result is an intelligent, complex and accomplished documentary that undoubtedly captures the spirit and atmosphere of a city where a political carnival degenerated into a police riot.

The footage of the G8 leaders, the demonstrations and the street battles is supplemented by numerous interviews with protestors, politicians, Genoan residents and media types. Throughout the film various testimonies and analyses written about Genoa are read by actors and used as a voiceover. More general musings about the world and the state we are in come courtesy of recordings of speeches from those old warhorses of the left John Pilger and Tony Benn. The film also liberally quotes from Guy Debord's critique of modern consumer capitalism "The Society of the Spectacle".

The film begins with the build up to the protest and the transformation of Genoa city centre into a fortified military zone, the so called red zone, to protect the G8. We see protestors arrive from all over the world and take part in a large march in support of immigrant rights; an event that was characterized by a joyful sense of possibility and solidarity. But as an interviewee remarks in the film "when power exerts itself it creates a desert" and the next day the police moved against the demonstrators with unbridled ferocity as they marched towards the perimeter of the red zone.

The film documents the police brutality in grueling detail. It is with this extraordinary footage that Berlusconi's Mousetrap really comes into it's own as a compelling piece of filmmaking. In one almost nightmarish sequence the film is slowed down, showing the police repeatedly pummel and kick people, sweating from exertion, while the voiceover narrates the testimony of an Irishman who was attacked by the police and then arrested. In custody this Irishman endured beatings and death threats and relates how delirious and jubilant cops beat, threatened and pissed upon other detainees while forcing some of them to sing fascist songs. Again and again we see the police gassing and attacking people without provocation.

After the shooting dead of a protestor and two days of street battles the police launched a nightime raid on some of the demonstrators sleeping quarters in Scuola Diaz and the IndyMedia Centre. Ostensibly, the police were searching for rioters but as the film makes clear the intention was to terrorise the demonstrators and destroy any evidence they might have of police brutality. Berlusconi's Mousetrap proves in an effective and shocking way that their efforts were in vain.

However, I do have some reservations about the film. Berlusconi's Mousetrap isn't just a straightforward account of what happened in Genoa. It poses the question- were the events in Genoa part of a trap; a series of events engineered to divide and demoralize the anti-capitalist movement?. It also asks to what extent the Black Bloc, a section in the demonstrations made up mainly of anarchists, was infiltrated and manipulated by the Italian state into providing a pretext and an opportunity to attack and criminalise the movement as a whole.

This is where I think the film is at its weakest and least convincing. The film suggests that the political decisions that shaped the course of events in Genoa are shrouded in mystery and a lot of time is devoted to vignettes and stories that validate the idea that what happened on streets of Genoa was part of a grand and secret conspiracy. This is reinforced by the use sound effects, music, and surveillance camera footage.

It is not that the Italian state is incapable of conspiracy and intrigue. On the contrary Italian history over the past forty years proves that the Italian elite is endlessly drawn to Machiavellian plots that serve their own ends. It is simply that in this case the "conspiracy" is an open secret. After all, well before Genoa anti-capitalist protestors had been batoned in Seattle and Prague and shot at in Gothenburg and police forces and governments had begun, quite publicly, cooperating and pooling information in order to neutralize and contain the growing anti-capitalist movement. There was, or is, no doubt that they intend to do this through repressive police action and black propaganda.

Berlusconi's Mousetrap pays a great deal of attention to the role that the Black Bloc played in Genoa. The Black Bloc is depicted as an inexplicably destructive horde, a tiny minority who were infiltrated, given free rein to go on the rampage and used by the state to break up the movement. I am sure there was police infiltration and some agent provocateurs amongst the Black Bloc but this kind of thing is just ordinary statecraft. Nor is it a surprise that the mainstream media and the Italian authorities made a fuss out of the bank burning and looting of supermarkets by the Black Bloc as well as some of the more stupid and counterproductive actions such as burning small cars and the like. The film makes too much of all this and at times seems to be scapegoating the Black Bloc for what happened in Genoa. We certainly have to be able to rethink and criticise the strategies and methods we use but Berlusconi's Mousetrap doesn't really ask why these people chose to engage in direct action or what alternatives we have. The film comes close to representing the Black Bloc in much the same way as the mainstream media does. This crude and banal stereotype of the "sinister and violent" Black Bloc serves only to help criminalise the movement as a whole that is often portrayed as a mindless, traveling rent-a-mob.

This general tendency in the film to see things in a conspiratorial light, I believe, risks emptying things of their proper significance; in the twilight all cats are grey. Genoa becomes, when viewed in this way, a pristine moment manufactured in a laboratory of power rather than part of an ongoing and shifting battle between the powerful and the disenfranchised. This might also explain why the film spends very little time examining differences within the anti-globalisation movement or does little to situate the events within a broader history of the left and state repression in Italy and doesn't mention the widespread demonstrations against Berlusconi's government held across Italy after Genoa. If the events are being manufactured and the outcome is a foregone conclusion then the details are fairly irrelevant.

It is also unclear how Guy Debord's incisive dialectical aphorisms, that are used at regular intervals throughout the film, fits into the filmmaker's analysis of events in Genoa. Within the vaguely paranoid atmosphere of the film this citation seems more like a stylistic device rather than a theoretical underpinning for historical analysis.

These criticisms aside Berlusconi's Mousetrap is a well made and astute documentary that tells an important story and proves once again the relevance of the Indymedia project and reminds us that "our weapons are imagination and unpredictability- the things they don't have".

Wu Ming

There is a reply from the director of the film to this review at - scroll down past the listing of WS articles

Producer: Irish Independent Media Centre
Photography: IMC Ireland and IMC Genoa
Editors: Eamonn Crudden, Joe Carolan, Leah Doherty
Director: Eamonn Crudden
No Copyright 
Available from IFC bookshop or contact 

Due to reasons of space a much shorter version of this review was published in Workers Solidarity No 73. To read the shorter version dowload the PDF file of WS73

See also

Against capitalist globalisation
Analysis of and eyewitness accounts from the struggles against corporate globalisation

July 17th 2001 - Irish anarchist reports from Genoa [with pictures]
A four section report with around 50 photos from an Irish anarchist in Genoa

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This edition is No73 published in November 2002

WS 73 front cover