I think the best way to start this review is with the man. A man I admittedly had never heard of before seeing this documentary that so closely chronicles his struggle. And having seen the film, I’m almost ashamed to relent that I’ve gone this long without familiarizing myself with his fight. But that’s what a great documentary (or any film, really) is for: to inform. To make us aware, and, possibly, care.
So, while Ai Weiwei has asserted himself as one of the most influential living artists (some liken him to a contemporary Andy Warhol), it’s his unflinching political activism that has made him equally if not more famous.
And herein lies the struggle that Alison Klayman aims to explore in her documentary, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. It’s the struggle of a man demanding to be heard by a government that won’t listen. He does this through many platforms, whether it’s a picture of his middle finger pointed high toward Chinese government buildings, Tweeting incessantly to call his government out on their wrongs, or filming a short documentary in which he and many of his friends/staff members look into a camera and blankly say, “Fuck you, Motherland,” in their native language.
In short, Ai Weiwei has balls. Most everything he does in his life is executed in an effort to bring justice to the country in which he resides. His efforts are tirelessly inspiring, and Never Sorry does an effective job of making you see things through Ai Weiwei’s eyes. No, this isn’t a fair and balanced film. As far as I can tell, Klayman went to no lengths to let the Chinese government tell it like they see it. That’s a filmmaking style that may anger some, but occasionally, it works. And works well.
With that in mind, Never Sorry is far from perfect. Klayman clearly spent years following Ai Weiwei and Co. around, gaining copious amounts of footage. I’m sure she had hundreds upon hundreds of hours of material, but often, the tone of the film is aimless, if not meandering. The movie is 91 minutes long, but feels longer due to occasional sloppy editing.
Regardless, Ai Weiwei is a fascinating character and Never Sorry is a worthy documentary about the struggle of the fight. It won’t change the cinematic game, but it might just teach you a few things. B
Note: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is now available to rent on iTunes and will be available on DVD come Dec. 4. In the meantime, this short, shot at Ai Weiwei’s home, is a perfect glimpse into his self-effacing attitude.