Director: Ai Wei Wei
Cast: Ai Wei Wei
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 12/18/17
Opens: October 13, 2017
Famine, Poverty, War, Disease: Four horsemen of the apocalypse, human problems that will not likely go away as people make their New Year’s resolutions for 2018. Most of us know about the overwhelming problems faced by people who leave their lands in search of a better life or, indeed, of just a continued life somewhere where they can be fed and live with people who respect them as human beings. It’s not until we see Ai Wei Wei’s engrossing, yet sad, documentary, that we see visual examples of the terrors that face tens of millions of the world’s seven billion. And these may be the lucky ones. Others simply stayed in their homelands, too sick or old or indifferent to move, as their bodies shriveled with malnutrition, their very beings torn apart by bombs.
Ai Wei Wei, who seems to have traveled almost as much as Hillary Clinton when she was Madam Secretary, at age sixty is an artist who has been openly critical of the lack of Chinese democracy. In making this film he emerges once again as a humanist, a fellow concerned not with Trump’s super rich one percent, not even with the U.S. politicians’ favorite target the Middle Class, but with people who are not only poor like America’s homeless but who are at risk of life and limb. As we see them in this film, which could have easily gone another hour to cover the field, they are walking, traveling in rickety boats, getting some rest in tents. The verbal ones face the cameras to talk about their grievances, some in halting English, but most with their native languages of Arabic (as with Jordanians, Syrians, Iraqis and Gazans) Turkish, and other tongues. Those affiliated with organization to help these people speak English while there are snippets of German and Greek as well.
Some of the 65 million on the move from 23 countries, who are photographed by some 12 cinematographers, are turned away by guards or by fences (there are no 70 such barriers) and barbed wire, others given just temporary respite from xenophobic authorities. “Don’t send us back to hell,” shouts one woman, presumably more willing to live in a rain-soaked tent than to go back to their failed communities largely in Asia and Africa. They heard that Europe is a continent enjoying freedom and democracy and empathy for the downtrodden, which they can occasionally confirm when, for example, Italian aid workers give them foil capes for warmth, probably in Lampadusa (see the movie “Fuocoamare” for more on this).
Palestinians from Gaza note that millions of their ilk are in Jordan and Lebanon, and while these people are critical of Israel, they do not utter the fierce denunciations of the Jewish state which newscasters love to capture. One creature does find solace after living like an animal: a tiger, having escaped into Egypt thanks to a tunnel built by Gazans to sneak into Israel, paces around his cage like an animal in my own borough’s Prospect Park zoo: frustrated in his desire to live as a tiger should live. That tiger lucks out by being flown to South Africa where he or she will presumably be released to a sanctuary.
Unrated. 140 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – A-
Overall – B+