Ai Weiwei: On top of the wave

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Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case

Country of origin: Denmark

Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)

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If you were hoping for the backstory that led to the  detention and subsequent release under house arrest for “subversion of state power” of Ai Weiwei – China’s world-famous artist –  sit tight. Much of that is contained in the preceding effort of another filmmaker, Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.

What The Fake Case lacks in context, it makes up for in revealing why Ai Weiwei has become an irrepressible force the world has come to defend.

Andreas Johnsen’s film as a sequel makes for a compelling, humanizing look into the life – both domestic and political – of the one of China’s most daring dissidents.

The phony charges of tax evasion against his “Fake” studio/company are real enough that his passport has been withheld and he is unable to grant interviews to the media.

Ai Weiwei’s sentence was written long before he made a name for himself internationally. Both his parents were outspoken critics of the government in the late 1950s. As his mother put it, “I think our family has always been living on the tip of a wave – and Chinese society is a like a huge wave. … And our family is always in danger, on top of the wave.”

Ai Weiwei's Forever Bicycles sculpture was one of the highlights of Nuit Blanche 2013. Photo: Marites N. Sison/The Origami

Ai Weiwei’s Forever Bicycles sculpture was one of the highlights of Nuit Blanche 2013. Photo: Marites N. Sison/The Origami

Ai  Weiwei spent a good part of his childhood living in a labour camp, when his father, Ai Qing – one of China’s finest modern poets – was accused of being a rightist when he criticized the communist regime.

In 2011, Ai Weiwei was arrested and sentenced to 81 days in solitary confinement for “subversion of state power.” The trauma of being locked up in a 12’ X 24’ room, under constant surveillance, manifests itself in a sleeping disorder and memory loss. But the harshness of the life that he has known also expresses itself in the most creative, and sometimes, humorous of ways.

Ai Weiwei diminishes the power of eyes gazing on him by setting up a live feed of himself at home, allowing his captors to document his every move.

The film gives us a glimpse of his soft side – Ai Weiwei, the playful father; the artist of his time who enjoys selfies as much as anyone with a smartphone; and the man bold enough chase down the tail following him and pocket their ashtray.

It’s but for these moments that you start to understand how he has endeared himself to not only to his supporters.

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