Among the keenly observed moments in the new documentary about
In 1957, the year of Ai's birth, Maoist China began a purge of intellectuals. Ai's poet father was reduced to cleaning toilets. No such obscurity has befallen the subject of "Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case," whose large-scale conceptual works have made him a leading figure on the international art scene, albeit one who can no longer travel internationally.
Danish filmmaker Andreas Johnsen focuses on the year of probation after Ai's 81-day detention in spring 2011, widely considered government retaliation for his unrelenting criticism. Johnsen's film is neither a straightforward portrait nor a self-reflexive political commentary like "This Is Not a Film," made during Iranian director Jafar Panahi's house arrest. "Fake Case" assumes a certain familiarity with Ai and his work — explored more thoroughly in Alison Klayman's
Under constant surveillance, his stamina challenged and legal team dwindling, Ai faces the tax-evasion lawsuit against his company, playfully named Fake, that gives the film its double-edged title. Johnsen's camera catches that playfulness wearing thin and the respite that Ai's young son provides.
It catches Ai pushing on, assembling a major installment series that is pointedly autobiographical: scenes depicting his detention. Whether Ai will regain his passport is an open question. A sculpted version of his prisoner self, meanwhile, is touring the world.
"Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case"
MPAA rating: None; in English and Mandarin with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.