Andrew Breitbart would have loved “Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry.”
The new documentary chronicles the life of a Chinese artist who uses new media – and an unwillingness to accept government dogma – to inform the masses.
Director Alison Klayman’s brilliant feature tells the artist’s story with a poet’s sense of economy and urgency. By the end we feel like we’ve known him for years, and better still come away with a firmer understanding of the freedom-clamping government which he cannot stop exposing.
Chinese government apologist Thomas Friedman would be wise to give it a look, as well as anyone curious about a film all but guaranteed to earn an Oscar nomination early next year.
Ai Weiwei is a pudgy, bearded Chinese citizen who uses his art to expose the Communist government’s lack of transparency. His fame soared when he started questioning the death toll of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, particularly how shoddy building construction may have led to thousands of children dying unnecessarily.
His work combines performance art, sculpture and printed pieces, but he’s truly a maestro of the social media age. His nonstop Tweets had given him rock star status among his fellow citizens, but they also lay bare the government’s vise-like control of its people.
And, as Ai says in the movie, if an act isn’t publicized did it really happen?
Ai doesn’t want our sympathy, and he’s the first to deconstruct his own fame. It’s still tender to watch him try to comfort his mother who can’t stop worrying about a son who has defiance encoded in his DNA. Klayman captures these quiet scenes without theatricality. Somehow, what we witness is more powerful as a result.
Ai is nonplussed by his own work, admitting he often tells his team about his creative vision and they go about making it a reality. He appears more proud of how he confronts the government with every tool available to him.
“You can’t just say the system is flawed,” Ai argues about why he goes through the motions on filing charges against police brutality after officers left him with a serious head wound.
The film also details the child Ai had with a woman other than his wife. The narrative thread finds the artist concerned about the China his young child will live in. It also reveals his discomfort at the moral quagmire his infidelity raised while showing a flawed side to his persona.
“Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” represents a critically important figure in Chinese culture, a man standing atop new media systems to expose an evolving government still uneasy with the true notions of freedom. The battle, the film reminds us in its waning moments, is far from over.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies