[Review] – Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

17 Aug

Title: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Year: 2012
Director: Alison Klayman
Writer: Alison Klayman
Starring: Ai Weiwei, Ying Gao, Danqing Chen, Changwei Gu
MPAA Rating: R, some language
Runtime: 91 min
IMDb Rating: 7.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Metacritic: 81

Ai Weiwei is one of the most renowned artists in the world, and not only is the man famous for his art, but also for his political activism, a combination of which no doubt being what got him the top spot in ArtReview magazine’s annual Power 100 list in 2011. And now Alison Klayman has given us our first feature-length look at the life and work of such an artistic icon with Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, a documentary that got a special jury prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and that will definitely stand as one of the year’s best documentaries.

It’s seriously a tremendous look at a fascinating figure. And Ms. Klayman has really gotten a terrific amount of access to the life of such a man, we get to shine a light on his creative process, as we see him prepping exhibitions for some of the most important museums in the world; we get to see him at his most personally intimate thanks to testimony for and with his family; and we of course get to see the political side of the man, too, and just how public and harsh his clash with the Chinese government eventually got. It’s a portrait of an artist, a personal look at a man, and an exploration of country through the effect that he’s able to have on it.

It’s fantastic that such a rebel exists in our world, a guy that’s just so intent on resisting the superpower that’s the Chinese nation. This is a guy that got his blog shut down by his government, and then joined Twitter and used those 140 characters to provide a seriously loud and proud “fuck you” to his very nation, in far more eloquent and artistically awesome ways than that, of course. Ms. Klayman gets in there during that recent time period in which Ai just really gained fame and traction in the world, and during which he, knowing this was the case, started blurring the line between what was aesthetic and what was a political f.u. in his art. He’s truly a fascinating man.

This is a man that’s no afraid of speaking out, no matter what may happen to him for doing so. It’s extra awesome because of the fact that this is still happening, Ms. Klayman didn’t get a story that was over and told it to us, she’s giving us the scoop as it’s happening, and once the end credits roll you still know that Ai is out there doing his thing, and you don’t know just what will happen to him. This is a guy that’s seriously smart, that’s tremendously likable, and that’s just really strong-willed and strong-minded, and I’m really glad I found out about his story.

It all started in 2008 after the Sichuan earthquake in which so many died because of badly-constructed state schools, and after that the Chinese government refused to let out the specific information of those who died, which infuriated Ai and led him to create the Sichuan Earthquake Names Project, in which he researched as much as he could to find out who the nameless victims really were. That’s one of the main points about Ai’s whole thing, he wants the facts to be out there, he wants transparency, and to want that from a government like the one in China results in really dire things at times, like when the police actually beat up Ai in a hotel room. Like he says: “I am now more of a chess player than an artist, waiting for my opponent to make the next move”.

This is a guy who’s kind of been conditioned his whole life to want to be like this. His father was a poet that was seen as a revolutionary leader but then, when Mao came on, he was publicly humiliated like all other intellectuals. Ai then spent the whole 80’s in New York, something that also helped to form his current self quite a lot; with him becoming a figure in the new Chinese community that was starting off there, making videos of street protests and just soaking in the attitude of that time and place, with the avant-garde artistic expressions and the whole punk scene that was on full display.

We see how influenced the man was by all of that. By seeing his own father stand up for what he believed in even though the government tried to silence him in very public and shameful ways, and by living in New York where he says he got to experience freedom, something that stays within you and can’t be taken away. I cannot recommend this film enough, this is one truly impressive individual to get to know here, a guy that just walks the walk no matter how considerable the dangers he faces for doing so may be, and it’s not as though he’s a reckless guy who thinks nothing will happen to him, it’s just that he thinks that it’s far more dangerous to stand there doing nothing.

Of course Ai is not a perfect man, and the film won’t pretend that he is, but he is the voice of a country with billions of voices in it that can’t or won’t speak out. He’s a rebel, a nonconformist, the kind of guy who pushes too hard and too fast, and who puts himself and those close to him in great risk by doing so. He’s actually a truly important figure in the world right now, and this is a really powerful documentary that’s exceptionally well made by Alison Klayman, who makes us see just how much art can be a true method of communication and have an effect in the world, anchored by a guy that will have you glued to the screen.

Grade: A-

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