We can't move lately without nudging a documentary on an artist; last month we had Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, last week Eames: The Architect And The Artist graced the (smaller) screens and now we have politically-charged documentary on Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. A winner at Sundance, Never Sorry is interesting but needed a little more focus to click into place.
i Weiwei. Artist. Dissident. Twitter fan. Alison Klayman's documentary is all manner of things. Retracing Ai Weiwei's steps back to his time in New York (where he was a Coppola to expat artists) and back further to his father's persecution at the hands of the Communist Party, Never Sorry shapes itself up to be a life story of sorts, stopping off every now and then to show the man in action. In the run up to his latest exhibition, the designer of the Bird's Nest, so impressive at the Beijing Olympics, uses his art to highlight his country's plight the political oppression, lack of freedom of speech, etc.
ever Sorry isn't sure what it wants to be. Bringing the artist to the attention of the world? No. A study of his work? Getting warmer but no. An exploration of the struggling artist in one of the most oppressive countries in the world? That's closer, but a lot of the running time concerns itself with Ai Weiwei seeking justice for the brutality at the hands of the police - they struck him on the head, which lead to migraines and onto surgery - and his dogged determination to bring his case to court. All the while the artist claims that the journey is pointless but that it's important to see it through to highlight the oppressive nature of the authorities. Klayman picked a less interesting subject matter to rest her documentary on when there was so much else to sink her teeth into.
hagiographic study, yes, but Klayman's portrayal of the man can irk a newbie, making him come across like a tempestuous teen. At one point, he delights in telling us how he snatched the sunglasses from a detective's head, while his smashing of a Neolithic urn renders him nothing more than an infant terrible or a rabble-rouser. The director does at least try to kick the leaves. Living in China and the government clampdown on free speech, it's put to Ai Weiwei that things have changed considerably- we know about him, he speaks out on a regular basis - but it's a shame that isn't explored.
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