June 28, 2016
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Always say never.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Portrait of the artist as dissident

August 15, 2012, 5:00 am

When Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is asked how he’s so fearless, he replies, “I’m so fearful!”

We wouldn’t know by his actions. In Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, the artist is shown constantly fighting with the government, on camera and off, and almost always with a calm demeanor that approaches detachment.

As Ai Weiwei says, in China “there’s no discussion, no rationality.” To wit, in one scene, Ai Weiwei is beaten by police then told he must have beaten himself. Before the 2008 Olympics, authorities ask him to build a studio in Shanghai.

In 2011, the studio is called illegal and torn down. This sympathetic documentary shows Ai Weiwei as thoughtful, obsessive and complicated.

But whether he’s working on an installation in Europe or researching the Sichuan earthquake—an apparent source of consternation with the government—his low-key demeanor acts as a reassuring center amid the chaos. Using social media as a tool—Twitter should get co-billing—Ai Weiwei moves on and on and on, barely stopping for rest after an 81-day incarceration leaves him mildly evasive and visibly frailer.

This necessarily one-sided portrayal of the artist leaves one wishing we could all be fearful in the same way.

CCA Cinematheque, R, 91 min.

 

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