REVIEW: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

8 12 2012

Ai WeiweiDocumentaries about artists frequently devolve quickly into hagiography or niche journalism, failing to make the case for why that person matters – merely telling us that they exist and that they create.  I’m happy to report that isn’t the case for “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” Alison Klayman’s superb documentary on the titular Chinese iconoclast.

I was expecting something in the vein of “Waste Land,” the Oscar-nominated portrait of socially conscious artist Vik Muniz, who made incredible works out of garbage to draw attention to the outrageous levels of poverty in his homeland of Brazil.  But Ai Weiwei is more than just an artist; he’s a social activist who brilliantly uses art to challenge the oppressive laws and customs in China.  Just take a look at the poster and see Weiwei’s middle finger pointed towards the heart of China.  Subtlety is not his strong suit.

The film does a fantastic job balancing Weiwei the artist and Weiwei the activist, showing how the two are inextricably linked that one cannot be accurately understood without the other.  Klayman lost my interest a bit when she delved into his personal life, but that’s only a minor digression in this otherwise tightly focused documentary, assured of the importance of itself and its subject.

Her chronicle of Weiwei captures him at a very unique time.  It begins right after he drew worldwide attention after calling out the Chinese government to their faulty response to the Sichuan earthquake around the time the country was trying to portray a positive image in the Olympics.  This specific inciting incident guides the film and motivates Weiwei to use whatever means necessary, including social media, to get his message out there.

If you need to be assured of good in the world, know that his message has been received by plenty of people who have begun to demand change.  If you need to be assured that such goodness is not enough, wait for the end of the “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” and see how the Chinese government responds to his message of government corruption and unresponsiveness reaching too many people.

But Weiwei will never stop, never shut up, and never apologize.  They can try to silence his art, but they never will.  It would take killing Weiwei himself since he has essentially transformed his life into performance art.  Or protest.  By the end of the documentary, you will scarcely be able to separate the two.  A-3halfstars