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Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case
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by Jay Seaver

"Still not sorry."
4 stars

Though the two are unrelated outside of their subject and subject matter - they are made by different directors for different producers with visual styles that are fairly divergent as documentaries shot in the same places go - it's hard for me to not look at "Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case" as a sequel to Alison Klayman's "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry". That's probably unique to me mostly knowing of Ai Weiwei from that previous movie; those who haven't seen it or are more familiar with the Beijing artist will probably enjoy it as well, as it's pretty well done with its own merits.

For this movie, director Andreas Johnsen starts filming Ai in mid-2011, soon after he is released from nearly three months of detention to begin a year of probation. The charge given is that his design and art production company, Fake Ltd., has evaded taxes, although you wouldn't think that would be a charge that subjects the outspoken artist to a gag order - albeit one that he will attempt to subvert in any way he can.

Johnsen does not spend much time describing what landed Ai in hot water, though those who have seen Klayman's film will recognize the printouts adorning his walls. In some ways, he is presented as somewhat more conventional than the man from Never Sorry. In some ways, this is a bit of a weakness; although Johnsen starts the film with a quote from Picasso on how art "is an instrument of war", it would not be difficult at all to watch just this film and get the idea that Ai Weiwei was a family man who created peculiar and sometimes risqué art that ran afoul of the government for some unknown reason, leading to a political awakening that made him more of an activist artist. And while there's a note of truth to that - what he is doing by the end of this film is much more pointed - it does a bit of a disservice to him.

Look at The Fake Case as movie focused on that facet of Ai Weiwei's life and career, though, and it's very entertaining and well-presented. Johnsen and editor Adam Nielsen build a clear line from Ai's initial shock and understandable sense of being shocked to being more openly rabble-rousing. There is a sense of how one can take certain intrusions for granted until one is confronted with them directly which doesn't ever make Ai or the others involved look foolish or impractical, and an impressive handling of tone: Johnsen and company negotiate from shell-shock to paranoia to more open defiance.

Watching Ai Weiwei during that evolution is intriguing, if sad, especially if you've seen him in other contexts. A jovial, social person, there's the constant sense of his being isolated and worn down in this movie, with his puckish nature only reasserting itself in fits and starts. It's not particularly hard to see why this is neither the first nor last film about him; he's a personable, witty guy in English (and presumably more so in Mandarin) who has the ability to stand for something but not get lost in the cause.

Full disclosure: I've contributed to a project in which he is involved on Kickstarter, although I don't think that affects my impression of this documentary more than just indicating an interest in the man's work. That's worth noting, because I'm not quite sure how it plays for someone starting from zero. On the other hand, it feels like it would make a quality double feature with "Never Sorry", and that's no bad thing.

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originally posted: 07/11/14 04:09:22
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Directed by
  Andreas Johnsen

Written by
  Andreas Johnsen


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