Sunday, February 10, 2013

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Directed by Alison Klayman.
2012. Rated R, 91 minutes.

Ai Weiwei
Danjing Chen
Ying Gao
Changwei Gu
Tehching Hsieh
Evan Osnos

Ai Weiwei is a world famous Chinese artist and human rights activist. His most frequent target is his own country’s government making him a dissident in their eyes. They have a history of silencing artists, intellectuals and anyone critical of their way of doing things, usually by imprisonment. Still, Weiwei has been fearlessly taking them on for years, not only in his art but with his tireless use of social media. He has created a movement among his people. This documentary follows him from fall of 2009 until shortly after his detainment in spring 2011.

The star of our show proves to be an inexhaustible force of nature. Much the way we think of Gandhi and MLK, Weiwei seems to be fighting for the rights of his people daily, without relent. We see him create art, with the help of a small army to implement his ideas, that takes digs at the powers that be in China. Other tmes we see him in direct confrontation with the law. Still other times he’s in America doing interviews about the political and social climate of his native land. Meanwhile, fellow critics of the Chinese government are jailed. In between all of this, we meet Weiwei’s family, some people who work for him and a few who’ve been long time supporters and/or benefactors. We not only get a feel for the man’s mission, but the passion he has for it and how infectious it has become. We really sense that he’s struck a chord with more than just the downtrodden and obviously disadvantaged, but with anyone who wants to better their society.

Of course, such a film almost can’t help becoming an exercise in hero worship. We get glowing endorsements from everyone interviewed. The opposing viewpoint is never expressed. This is expected from anyone connected to the Chinese government. However, is there not one person in China who disagrees? At the very least, does no one object to how clearly he’s influenced by Western Culture? More troubling is the glossing over of the flaws that make Weiwei human. As much as he cares for his cause, he seems as dispassionate about his family. It’s like he’s hardened to their concerns about his safety. In conversations with them he often comes across as cold and dismissive. It’s an understandable defense mechanism but one never discussed. The only one who seems to escape his cold shoulder is his young son, born of an extra-marital affair. That situation is brought up, but he’s not really pressed on it. We meet both his wife and the boy’s mother but neither speaks about how these events affected them. Weiwei himself matter of factly acknowledges he made a mistake, but it amounts to little more than shrugging his shoulders at the whole thing.

By the end, we get a portrait of a man who’s not always likeable but is fighting an extremely worthy battle. He does so armed with his imagination and Twitter account. He must be commended for standing up for what he believes in. With such dedication to both his ideals and working toward them combined with his popularity, it can be argued that Ai Weiwei is the most important artist in the world. If nothing else, Never Sorry ably conveys this point.

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