Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case [2014]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoTribune (3 1/2 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (S. Linden) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (D. Ehrlich) review

About Chinese avant garde artist Ai Weiwei:
         Wikipedia article
         NY Times coverage
         Amnesty International coverage

Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case [2014] (written and directed by Andreas Johnsen) is a documentary which continues to chronicle the struggle of Chinese avant garde artist Ai Weiwei [en.wikip] [ny times] [] with the Chinese Communist government.  The film is intended as a companion piece / sequel to Alison Klayman's documentary about him Ai Weiwei; Never Sorry [2012] reviewed here previously.

I have long believed that the Arts have an intrinsic prophetic _potential_ to them.  Obviously fawning propaganda pieces can also be made to support any "power that be."  However, the Arts can also expose and shame the same powers when they become too arrogant.  I'm also something of a child of the 1968 Prague Spring, my parents' childhood home, a city which dominated by two foreign imposed totalitarian dictatorships for the better part of their lifetimes now proudly celebrates Franz Kafka as one of its own. 

So while there is something of a "piggishness" to Ai Weiwei, a good part of me honestly "gets him," appreciates him and sympathizes with him.  And one gets the sense that famed Czech absurdist playwright, dissident leader during the Communist era, and Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic's first post-Communist President, Vaclav Havel, would have absolutely loved him.  For Ai Weiwei clearly uses his art to provocatively shame Chinese government for its arrogance and its negligence. 

For instance (this documented in the first film) after the devastating 2008 Sichuan earthquake which destroyed dozens of schools throughout central China, killing thousands of children (in a country with a rigid one child only population control policy...), after the government proved very much disinterested in compiling the names of the deceased, Ai Weiwei HIMSELF organized hundreds of volunteers to go through the towns and villages to compile the names of the deceased children.  With the least of names (which he displays in his office), he promises to build one day a Washington Vietnam War Memorial style "Wall of Names" in their honor as well.  Then for an exhibition of his art in Munich, he composed a banner along the side wall of the museum utilizing 7,000 children's backpacks declaring in Chinese "She had a happy life until she was seven." This kind of use of art, _contemporary art_, where "the medium" itself can become part of "the message" can not but bring tears to one's eyes.

The current film deals with the harassment of Ai Weiwei by the Chinese authorities.  Nominally, he was accused by China's authorities of "tax evasion."  Yet, he spent some 80 days IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT (except for interrogations...) following his arrest prior to being released on bail (close to $1 million) with the case allowed to more or less expire one year later.  Could ANYONE imagine someone in the United States or in the European Union being held IN SOLITARY / INCOMMUNICADO for 80 days upon arrest for tax evasion?  (Now Vladimir Putin's Russia _did_ order a number of years ago a nationwide confiscation of the computers of opposition organizations and NGOs in a "crackdown" on "pirated software" ... and members of the Russian "punk collective" Pussy Riot [en.wikip] [NY Times] [], of course, did spend time in jail for "hooliganism" following a "guerrilla art" performance of a "Punk Prayer" at Moscow's Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Divine Savior asking, among other things, "Mary, Mother of God, drive Putin away." ;-)

The tax evasion case against Ai Weiwei dealt with his company called Fa-Ke, apparently meaning "Drawing and Development" in Chinese, but which carries several amusing meanings in English: transliterated, the company name comes to "Fake" (but what is Art but "faked reality" ;-), and pronounced, the company name sounds remarkably close to sounding like the F-word: "Fah K-eh" (Yes, I did mention that there is a "piggish" quality about him at times ...).

Anyway, Ai Weiwei did apparently eventually "pay up" what he owed (or what he "owed," it's hard honestly to tell...) the government, mostly apparently from donations of supporters (many of whom were local Chinese...).  And he did proceed to make a six scene, sculpture series, chronicling his time in prison, each scene encased in a cell, with viewers required to view the insides of the cell through a slit "just as guard would." 

It all continues to make for an interesting documentary series, and reminds one of both the power of art, as well as of the freedoms in the West that we often take for granted.

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