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Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (R)

Documentary 90 July 27, 2012
By Karina Longworth
Chinese artist, activist and antagonist Ai Weiwei was arrested by authorities at the Beijing Airport last April, detained in an undisclosed location for nearly three months, and released after allegedly confessing to tax evasion. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry concludes shortly after Ai’s release; the outspoken artist, for whom interviews with international journalists had essentially been a creative medium like photography or performance, is seen returning home cowed, dismissing the hordes of reporters waiting for him without offering comment. Without ever articulating a political argument, first-time filmmaker Alison Klayman presents ample evidence that the tax evasion rap is a cover, tracking how Ai, became China’s best-known artist outside of China — while simultaneously becoming the Chinese government’s worst PR nightmare. A valuable primer on how an artist becomes an enemy of the (closed) state he works in, Never Sorry is unexpectedly satisfying as a character study. Klayman champions Ai while politely revealing that he’s not a saint; in fact, his gluttonous human appetites (for food, for women) border on self-destructive. This makes for a more vibrant portrait of a life, and up the emotional stakes of the film, particularly as Klayman makes it clear that life, art and activism are not distinct practices for Ai – it's all one body of work. That Never Sorry is at once hyper-timely and out of date (a year after Klayman finished shooting, the status of Ai's freedom is murkier than ever) is a testament to the limits of fixed formats in this new world.
Alison Klayman Changwei Gu, Ai Weiwei, Evan Osnos, Huang Hung, Ying Gao, Tehching Hsieh, Zuzhou Zuoxiao, Yanping Liu, Danqing Chen, Inserk Yang Alison Klayman, Adam Schlesinger IFC Films

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