Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Ai Weiwei The Fake Case: A Portrait of the Artist Under House Arrest
is the product of eighty-one days of solitary confinement and rough
interrogation. Recreating scenes from his ordeal, S.A.C.R.E.D. is already
recognized as one of Ai Weiwei’s masterworks, as well as a devastating critique
of the Communist Party’s police state tactics. At least the government did its
best to prevent any distractions from delaying its completion—by confiscating
his passport and placing him under house arrest. The artist’s difficult year
spent as a prisoner in his own home-studio (known as 258 FAKE) is documented in
Andreas Johnsen’s Ai Weiwei: The Fake
opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center.
Weiwei is one of the most important artists in the world today, as his famous
sunflower seed installation at the Tate Modern and the current retrospective at
the Brooklyn Museum well attest. However, Teacher Ai claims he never initially set
out to be a political artist, but was forced down that path by the government’s
reaction to his work and activism. Those who have seen Alison Klayman’s Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry or Teacher Ai’s
own films, particularly Disturbing the
Peace and So Sorry, know the
artist as a compulsively outspoken, larger than life figure. It is rather
shocking to see the nearly (but not completely) broken Ai Weiwei who emerges
from almost three months of illegal detention early in Fake.
a condition of his so-called parole, Ai Weiwei is forbidden to speak with the
media, particularly international reporters. He duly complies, at least for a
while. Suffering from memory gaps and nightmares, Teacher Ai is literally a
pale shadow of his former self. Yet, as his health returns that familiar spirit
also perks up.
again, the Communist government provides an inadvertent assist, by requiring Teacher
Ai to post a considerably bond during his appeal. Much to the artist’s stunned
amazement, there is a massive outpouring of support on his behalf, as 100 Yuan
note paper airplanes start sailing over his wall, at no small risk to the
donors. Their heartfelt messages move him deeply. Frankly, if viewers do not
get a little choked up at this point, they perhaps missed their true callings
as Communist torturers (as sleep deprivation is widely acknowledged as a form
of torture, it is indeed fair to say Teacher Ai was tortured while in custody).
Fake picks up where Klayman’s
documentary left off, making them excellent companion films. Of course, it is
hard to go wrong with any film that captures Ai Weiwei being himself. Although
we might expect Teacher Ai to be far more guarded on camera following his incarceration,
the opposite appears to be true. Not only do hear him talking candidly about
the lasting effects of his imprisonment, we also witness (quite touching)
scenes of him interacting with his young son, Ai Lao.
Arguably, we see more of Ai the private citizen
than Ai Weiwei the public figure. Of course, that rather makes sense,
considering he could not leave his home without government permission during
this time. Nevertheless, the injustice of his persecution is clearly and
thoroughly established. Largely observational in his approach, Johnsen’s trust
in his subject’s cinematic presence and compelling work (be it artistic, political,
or both) pays off handsomely. A source of inspiration and outrage, Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case is highly recommended
for all viewers who value free expression when it opens this Friday (5/16) at
the IFC Center.
Labels: Ai Weiwei, Documentary