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article imageReview: 'Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case' lights fires Special

By Michael Thomas     Apr 27, 2014 in Entertainment
It's impossible to talk about Ai Weiwei's art on its own. "I'm not a political artist, I'm just political," Ai says at one point in Andreas Johnsen's film, and it perfectly sums up the outspoken artist.
Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case begins right after the artist is released on bail, after being held in a secret location for 80 days. Though Ai is out of jail, he cannot even begin to think he's leading a normal life — unless you count a false charge of tax evasion and being monitored almost 24 hours a day as normal.
The film will frustrate audiences, not because of faults in the filmmaking, but because of the incomparable web the Chinese government keeps Ai trapped in. Ai treats the absurdity of his life with surprising calmness, as he deals with the fact that he can't give interviews as part of his probation and must phone the police every time he wants to leave his house.
Director Andreas Johnsen doesn't pretend that this film will be balanced in any way — it's hard to see merit in anything the Chinese government does in an attempt to subdue him, and it's unlikely Johnsen would be able to get an official on camera to explain what the government wants to do with him.
The "I'm just political" line is an illumination — it puts the various scenes of Ai creating artwork into context. The most fascinating scene where Ai isn't talking takes place at night, where he sets off fireworks from within a public square. The sound the fireworks make is so deafening that it sounds like gunfire, and the fact that Ai is launching them makes them seem like more than just fireworks.
The audience also learns that Ai is far from alone, even within in his own country. His supporters are myriad and know where to find him, even if Ai Weiwei does not show up on Chinese Internet searches, nor can his house be located on Google Maps. Over the course of the film he talks with close friends and journalists, and Johnsen himself, and discusses his time in captivity, what he plans to do once his probation ends, and what he thinks China's future will be.
Johnsen's access to Ai at all times is a feat within itself, as it allows Johnsen to get the opinion of the outspoken artist that international journalists only wish they could. The amount of time Johnsen spends with him also allows a real humanizing, particularly poignant in one scene where Ai learns that one of his friends has been injured by a police officer.
If anything, Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case will make viewers as angry about Ai's situation as Ai himself. As the film moves past his probation, Ai's troubles seem far from over.
More about ai weiwei the fake case, Ai weiwei, Hot docs, Documentary, andreas johnsen
 
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