Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei (“aye way-way”) is almost too good to be true. Nearly Christ-like in his doings and sayings, his fascinating artwork is a collision of Banksy and Frank Gehry, while his quest for social justice makes him an heir to Gandhi. He has a calm and wisdom about him that’s exceedingly rare in the world, and yet, as a consequence of his daring activism, he can bleed, too.
Whether due to careful editing or just plain accuracy, Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry depicts the man as one who can do no wrong. Usually, a lack of flaws results in a dull person, but Weiwei is all the more intriguing in that he exudes such peace and confidence in the face of constant struggle. The beauty he’s able to create in all facets of his life as a result of such fighting is phenomenal to witness, and through the lens of Klayman’s respectful direction, this bio-doc is endlessly engaging.
As with any film on a creative mind, the artist’s works provide the initial hook. Beginning with a gravity-defying arrangement of traditional Chinese chairs, the string of Weiwei’s imaginative works commands attention, each with increasingly political overtones. When the art escalate into action, taking the injustice that his pieces suggest a few steps farther, it quickly becomes clear that his art and activism are one and the same.
With its crisp visuals, in-depth storytelling, and 360-degree access to a brilliant mind, Never Sorry’s resembles the finest of such documentaries, namely Scott Hicks’ Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts. Klayman follows Weiwei around as if a member of his inner circle, and other than the occasional smooth direct-camera interview, he behaves as if the equipment is invisible. In all likelihood, he’s grown accustomed to the attention his actions have attracted and is unfazed by media, making him an ideal subject. Philip Glass likewise inspires a fine documentary, but the main difference between the two men is that Glass has legitimate problems: he’s so dedicated to his work that there’s little room for respectful relationships with non-collaborators, including his wife and children, with whom he’s almost socially retarded.
Weiwei has no such flaws. There are two possible ones, but each are shrugged off by Weiwei and Klayman. He’s fathered a son outside of his marriage, but is entirely open about it and unashamed. He admits that his wife isn’t pleased with the situation, but she lives with it. The other potential problem is his aggressiveness in pursuing his civil rights battles. In his attempt to hold the Chinese government accountable for a policeman who assaulted him (and gave him a concussion that required an MRI), Weiwei confronts the officer a year later, resulting in a brief but harmless scuffle among Weiwei’s entourage and other officers.
The run-in is as close to crossing the line as Weiwei gets in Never Sorry, but even then there’s a sense that, considering the wrongs inflicted upon him and the relative innocence of his actions, he remains in the right. To be given such intimate access to this kind of man is a treat and in bringing awareness to an important global figure, Klayman deserves the utmost praise. Her film is a rare breed of documentary that feels essential. Ignore it at your own risk.
Rated R for some language.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry opens Friday, September 7 at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
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Ooooh I want to see this. Also I want to see him.
If you see one documentary this year…see DETROPIA. But since it’s unlikely to play nearby, see AI WEIWEI: NEVER SORRY.