Movie Review – Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
August 18, 2012 3 Comments
I remember being in Beijing two months before the Olympics were to take place in the majestic city, one where economic boom was paralleled with a old way of life. The Bird’s Nest was the crowning achievement of architecture in the bustling city, a gorgeous, twisted structure that was unlike anything in China. Ai Weiwei was the idealist and artist behind the design of the stadium, a bear of a man who might seem imposing at first glance, but is soft spoken and kind. His art and life are at the center of documentary by Alison Klayman in Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.
An incredible feature documentary for first time filmmaker Alison Klayman, Never Sorry brings intimate access into hte works of Ai Weiwei, a political activist and prominent artist in a post Mao China. Instead of just focusing on the works of Ai, Klayman develops a wide story arc, one that fuels the works of Ai because of the challenging political government of China. We learn what makes him tick, what makes him the aggressive mouthpiece for dissent as political figures call him, and what his works of art mean to the world and to the Chinese society. It’s a constant quest for transparency that Ai battles for everyday with his paintings, filmmaking, sculptures and writing.
Like all good art, it challenges the establishment, making a bold statement through a medium that has meaning. Our first introduction into his art came about through his tireless of during the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008. Weiwei documented the footage, which is cut into the film by Klayman, as he wanted to know why so many kids needlessly died. China never released the number of dead, something that angers Weiwei as it is a simple answer, but that is what he is railing against, a government that is not transparent and forthcoming. To fight back and defy them, his art exhibit in German showcased a mosaic of children’s backpacks, one for each child that died due to shoddy school buildings. There were over 5,000 backpacks that his researchers were able to uncover as a death toll. It’s a fuck you to China and the government, taking what was secret and showcasing it to the world. It’s the radical rockstar artist mentality that people love about Weiwei, but to him it is just a part of what he has to do with his work and status.
This is just a small moment in his work, as Weiwei is shown to be a stubborn man and relentless in his work. While Never Sorry is a means to showcase the talents of a political dissident, it is also a striking portrait of an individual who lives in a state of constant fear because of his work. Weiwei is asked about his safety and those around him, he responds to an interview question by saying, “I’m more fearful, and that’s why I act brave. I know the danger is there, and if you don’t act, it becomes stronger.” If makes enough racket and noise, gets people to pay attention to what is happening, he becomes bigger and more important than the government. He becomes a symbol, much like his art, for challenging the system.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is, by proxy of Alison Klayman, one of his best works. A visual recording of what his life is like in an increasingly hostile government controlled country. His character defines who he is, a man who doesn’t falter and never stops breaking the old ways and rules of the country. His art, from breaking a priceless Han dynasty vase to painting product brands on the side of century old vases, shows a defiance, but calculated move to get people to pay attention to what he has to say. Weiwei is often quiet and reserved in the privacy of his house with his numerous cats, but his actions are the loudest voice of dissent. It’s the quiet, tranquil moments of Ai Weiwei’s life that highlight the stark reality he goes out and faces with the government when he leaves his house. Tender moments with his loved ones are then dwarfed by police brutality and the threat of prison.
We would do well to heed and pay attention to what Ai Weiwei is saying. It’s not just a statement about China as a government, but all governments. Those that aim to suppress people that speak out and becoming less transparent with what they are willing to reveal to the people is a reality that all countries and its inhabitants face. It’s a perfect documentary that manages to tell a story arch of one mans quest for truth, while shedding a light on his life and the country that he works to better through challenging authority and speaking up for those that can’t. His struggles will be captured for all to see and Klayman crafted a wonderfully provocative portrait of a political activist and artist.
Rating: 5 politically charged sculptures out of 5
*images via RottenTomatoes