The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case

Ai Weiwei has been the subject of several documentaries, most recently 2012's Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. This is for good reason. The artist was held in solitude, against his will, for eighty-one days, ostensibly for tax evasion, but really because he was critical of the Chinese government. He's been needling them for a long time. Art, it has always been said, can be politically dangerous. No one understands this better. The story continues in Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case.

The documentary follows Weiwei as he embarks on a yearlong battle against the government. Looking for a way to silence him, they have fabricated tax evasion charges. He denies having done anything wrong, but the charges have effectively allowed the government to contain him. Only a little bit, though. Telephone tapped and followed by police wherever he goes, Weiwei struggles to make art in the wake of the ordeal. He assembles a new piece based on his detainment, while his legal team starts to fall apart. Journalists want him to talk, but he knows � all too painfully � that every word he speaks has to be carefully considered. In one of the most gripping scenes, an opportunistic British journalist attempts to coerce Weiwei into opening up, even though doing so would put him at risk for further imprisonment.

Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case is a unique portrait of an artist in turmoil. Weiwei is clearly scared of what might happen to him, but he also feels the need to stand up and fight unjust charges and attempts to oppress his speech. Director Andreas Johnsen has clearly earned his subject's trust. The cameras capture very intimate scenes of Weiwei both fretting about how he should proceed and trying to carefully watch what he says and does, so as not to further inflame the situation. There's a limit to how much he can be pushed. In one shocking sequence, Weiwei loses it, taking his anger against the cops to the street for a profanity-laden outburst.

The Fake Case is better if you're familiar with Ai Weiwei and his history of provocative political art. Newcomers may struggle a bit to catch up with the many events that lead to what we see in this film. Nonetheless, it's a compelling documentary that underlines just how vital free speech is. A few weeks ago, journalists in Ferguson, Missouri were repeatedly prevented by police from fully reporting on the situation there. It was another example of how people in power attempt to prevent truth from being spoken. Ai Weiwei has been fighting that exact same thing, to a much greater degree, in his home country. His story is important, and the way it plays out in The Fake Case will amaze and inspire you.

( out of four)

Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case is unrated, but contains strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.

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