AI WEIWEII: NEVER SORRY – The Review
One example of the art of Ai Weiwei, the subject of the documentary AI WEIWEII: NEVER SORRY, is the artist giving a camera the finger and saying what translates to “F–k you, motherland”. Okay, if you’re up for a 91-minute documentary about an outspoken Chinese political artist, this is a good one, but your enjoyment of the film will depend on how interesting you find this subject. Ai is an artist, sculptor, architect, photographer, filmmaker and political activist. Already famous in his native China, he rose to international prominence in 2008 when he was the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium, known as The Bird’s Nest, for the 2008 Olympics. Yet Ai boycotted the opening of those games to protest the eviction of poor people to make room for the site. His other notable works include a vast carpet of porcelain replica sunflower seeds at the Tate Museum of Modern Art in England, millions of them hand-fired and hand-painted by inhabitants of Jingdezhen, the ‘porcelain capital’ of his native China. He once smashed a priceless 2000- year old Han Dynasty Chinese urn, and then painted the pieces in bright colors as a parable, he explained, about the cultural downfall of Bejing. His most controversial “art” was simply a long list of people killed in a 2008 earthquake; deaths he claims were caused by the collapse of shoddy and unsafe government buildings, a work that made him dangerously unpopular with the Chinese government.
It was at the Olympics when Filmmaker Alison Klayman’s began following Ai with her cameras and AI WEIWEII: NEVER SORRY, is a well-produced and fairly engaging portrait. Over the next two years, Ai is shown opening art shows in Europe and clashing with police. He’s visited by his mother who fears for his life, and interacts with his young son whom he admits he fathered outside his marriage. The film follows his 82-day detainment, designed to prevent him from testifying at the trial of a fellow activist, as human rights advocates demand his release. Klayman includes interviews with Ai’s family and his art world colleagues. If you’re looking for a film about the creative process and physical creation of art, look elsewhere. Though we do see Ai installing his Sunflower Seeds project, little time is devoted to the subject of sculpting or painting but instead focuses on inspiration, reaction, and Ai talking. He likes to talk. He likes to talk about his cats. And he likes to blog and tweet and blog some more and constantly take photographs of everything happening to him, even when the police come banging at his front door late at night. AI WEIWEII: NEVER SORRY held my interest for about 30 minutes, but I found Ai’s composed bohemian troublemaker shtick tiresome.
A first-time director, Klayman was given unprecedented access to the Ai and she uses that to compose a powerful portrait of a man who is decisively principled in his criticism of the Chinese state but who has plenty of his own personal flaws. She uses archival footage dating back to Ai’s adventures in the New York City art world in the 1980’s, and nicely follows his evolution as a creator and as an activist. AI WEIWEII: NEVER SORRY feels a bit unfinished; closing with Ai, bound by the strict bail conditions his of detention, disappearing behind a closed door. It’s an oddly defeatist image to cap this well-made documentary.
3 of 5 Stars