the cops show up to “inspect” your hotel room, it is a case of pure
intimidation. It is also something of a
badge of honor in today’s China. Film
producer and festival impresario Zhu Rikun was the target of such a police
roust, but he had the presence of mind to keep his camera rolling. His
resulting short documentary The
Questioning screens with Ai Weiwei’s thematically similar Disturbing the Peace as part of MoMA’s
continuing Chinese Realities/DocumentaryVisions film series.
it takes six cops to ask for Zhu’s papers.
Surely being familiar with Teacher Ai’s experience, Zhu handles himself
masterfully. He is distinctly
uncooperative, but never gives them anything they could describe as
provocative. The entire episode
degenerates into absurdist theater, with Zhu refusing to answers basic
questions, instead referring his interrogators to the very documents they hold
in their hands. Viewers can well imagine
the flustered enforcers reassuring themselves how badly they shook up Zhu once
they retreat from his room.
Questioning plays like a revised
scene from the ill fated Chengdu trip in Disturbing,
but unfortunately, Ai Weiwei and his team were not so deft at handling their harassers. Teacher Wei would take a shot to the head,
which would eventually led to a serious medical crisis, and his assistant would
be held incommunicado in gross violation of ostensible law.
her insightful post-screening Q&A, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry director Alison Klayman really put her finger on the
phenomenon both films document. Both Zhu
and Teacher Ai could be so assertive in confrontations with authority figures,
because there is no rule of law to govern such encounters. As a result, the strongest personality has an
advantage. Ironically, that gives
Teacher Ai the advantage. Zhu is
certainly no shrinking violet either.
the Peace is a film everyone
should watch to understand contemporary China.
Zhu’s The Questioning is also quite
valuable. It is short, but extremely
telling. One could argue he does not do
much directing, per se, merely turning on the stationary camera his surprise
guests never notice, but as a cinematic journalist, he is incredibly gutsy. However, his overly large cast is lousy at
taking direction. Both highly
recommended films screen together again (sans Klayman) this coming Saturday
(6/1), concluding Chinese Realities at
Labels: Ai Weiwei, Chinese Cinema, Chinese Realities, Documentary, Short Films, Zhu Rikun