Few movies can claim to be ripped from the headlines in the fashion of Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry, a portrait of the Chinese artist and activist most famous for his work on the Beijing Olympic stadium (aka the Bird’s Nest) and his cheeky attacks on his government on his massively popular Twitter feed. In 2011, Ai was held for months by Chinese authorities on charges of tax evasion that were widely believed to be a means of stifling his brazen anti-government speech and activities; only this summer was he granted bail and the permission to leave Beijing, with many restrictions on what he may say and do.
The career, private life and personality of the provocateur who brought such unwelcome attention on himself is the subject of an absorbing film by Alison Klayman, a journalist to whom Ai granted extremely close access both in his workplace and in his home.
Klayman’s film chiefly captures Ai in real-time: creating works for exhibits in London, New York and Munich, agitating for governmental accountability in the wake of the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, fighting off art critics, censors and bureaucrats, balancing a complex family life, eating his favorite meals. But she looks backward as well, to tell the story of his father, Ai Qing, a noted poet who suffered during the Cultural Revolution, and to track Ai’s formative years as a young artist in New York.
You come away with an appreciation of the abstraction, scale and daring of Ai’s art and, even more, a sense of the living man in his courage, humor and restlessness. It’s an invigorating experience.