MFF 2012 DAY TEN: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – Policeman

COMPLETE MILWAUKEE FILM FESTIVAL 2012 COVERAGE

DAY ONE: Starbuck – Opening Night Party
DAY TWO: Ethel – Come As You Are – Bones Brigade: An Autobiography – V/H/S
DAY THREE: Sans Soleil – Dead Weight – Andrew Bird: Fever Year
DAY FOUR: Inland Empire – Bad Brains: A Band in DC
DAY FIVE: Pink Ribbons, Inc. – 11 Flowers – How to Survive a Plague
DAY SIX: Romancing in Thin Air – Elena – The Imposter
DAY SEVEN: 5 Broken Cameras – Goodbye – High Tech, Low Life
DAY EIGHT: Big Boys Gone Bananas!* – Off White Lies – The Milwaukee Show
DAY NINE: Las Acacias – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie – Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
DAY TEN: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – Policeman
DAY ELEVEN: Quartet – No God No Master
DAY TWELVE: Mourning – As Goes Janesville – Blackmail – The Ambassador
DAY THIRTEEN: The Invisible War – Klown
DAY FOURTEEN: Old Dog – Little Red – Five Star Existence
DAY FIFTEEN: The Sessions – Detropia

10-6 Sa
10/15

At 12:30pm on this Saturday the Oriental Theater is bursting at the seams with tikes and parents indulging in the highly successful, I’m told, children’s section of the film festival. I circumnavigate the pint-sized throng and enter the main theater for Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry and am happy to see a very sizable audience.

While typical of my hyperbolic self-directed critical qualities, after the film I feel downright deficient for not already having been familiar with Weiwei. Are you familiar? If you see the film I do venture you’ll feel as I did, and this is a testament to how exceptional an individual Ai Weiwei appears to be. He has been called China’s Andy Warhol, but to my knowledge Warhol’s work was never as fueled by social conscience. When asked about his status as an artist, he likens himself to a chess player: “They make a move, I make a move.” ‘They’ are the members of the government of the People’s Republic of China: the promoters of The Great Firewall; the defenders of the country’s police force of thugs; State lackeys, active enemies of freedom of expression and silencers of those they claim “incite to subvert state power.” Such language reeks of insecurity. These “subverters” inexorably look forward to years of jail time for their non-violent activities, which usually consist of art and journalism, and would come to tragically include Weiwei himself as well as Nobel Peace Prize of 2010 winner Liu Xiaobo, who remains jailed to this day. Weiwei’s arrest blindsides the audience, coming up only in the film’s final 10 minutes. Weiwei literally disappeared from public life one day and we would only later learn that he had been arrested – for “tax evasion” – and interrogated about his allegedly “dissident, anti-government activities” for 81 days.

Weiwei, who is very fluent in English, speaks for himself throughout the film as almost everything he does is videotaped, any Chinese citizen’s last defense against injustice. He is rather a force of nature, disgusted with his country’s individual-silencing activities, always promoting self-expression, and even always working within the system to demonstrate its absurdity and to promote progress. What makes him controversial is his provocative response to The Man, best known for “Fuck You, Motherland” and eternally brandishing his middle finger to make his point. He calls the internet and social media the most important advances of our generation. At an exhibition of his work in Munich, he spelled out “She had been happy living in this world for 7 years” using 9,000 children’s backpacks, a devastating indictment against the government’s “tofu construction” schools which resulted in over 5,000 child deaths in the 2008 Sichaun earthquake. You can imagine the government’s problem. It is sobering and terrifying to see Weiwei at the film’s end when he is released from his sinister incarceration – the man who would back down before no one, who always, always rallied against silence. Reporters desperately inquire about his stint and he says, “I will not speak about it. Please, I cannot. Live your life.” Penalties included no public interviews, no usage of social media, no travel outside Beijing. Earlier in the film Weiwei is asked if he considers himself fearless. He replies, “Not fearless, fearful. The danger is there. If you don’t act, it becomes worse.” The message is this: speak out, always, because silence and secrecy are any State’s most potent weapons against the individual.

Policeman is an Israeli film from 2011 about a group of fledgling young terrorists and the anti-terrorist fuzz who will eventually have to take them down. I heard it said that the film was like HBO’s The Wire because it focuses on ‘both sides of the equation,’ but that is not quite accurate because a) The Wire focused on the US system of justice and its response to crime caused by urbanization, and b) Policeman does not give equal time to ‘both sides,’ the radicals get considerably more attention, c) if Policeman has anything to say about The Element of Crime, it’s hardly measurable. The first section of the film follows five cop comrades really just living their daily lives, and it isn’t long before we’re shown how immoral they can be – but of course this is not hugely important since we automatically side with any person who has a pregnant wife, right? Right? Never seen a cop with a pregnant wife before, have you? I know I haven’t. And then we’re whisked away to the posh apartments of the upper-middle-class twentysomething radicals who are on the brink of taking decisive, violent action against corporate billionaires on behalf of their abused, entry-level workers. We see how the discipline required to make a radical statement is similar to the discipline it takes to run a successful business. We see them practicing the public delivery of pamphlet-fodder, exercising uncompromising morality which the police officers lack. Nathanel (Michael Aloni) is the megabrain of the outfit, a stirring, Bresson-like creature with a cold lizard stare which expresses pronounced single-mindedness of purpose. He completely inspires Shira (Yaara Pelzig), the short 22 year old woman whose dogmatism would intimidate those twice her age and size. Most of the film is spent with Shira and this is fine since Pelzig does fine work and isn’t hard on the eyes. In Act III the radicals put their plot into motion and meet their inevitable resistance.

Policeman is made up largely of static extended takes filled with rehearsed, nailed performances. It’s a very pretty film, expertly photographed and composed and completely without soundtrack, though this precision feels rather humorless. A critic’s one-liner on the domestic poster provides the cryptic compliment “An exceedingly watchable film.” Sounds questionable at first but it’s quite apt. Policeman is an impeccably well-made film which goes… where, exactly? The message does not seem to be relevant – “It’s not about the goal, but how you get there,” and if you get there as brilliantly as we did here then an anticlimax becomes considerably more tolerable. Yes, there’s an anticlimax that made no sense to me: early on, the cops are interviewed about a situation in which civilians were killed during the cleaning up of a previous terror incident, and this film ends with the same cops breaking up a current terror incident. Why more civilians are not killed here is a mystery to me (retroactive spoiler alert, suckers), and when the film abruptly cuts to black I was left with nothing – nothing more than “what a mess we’re in” or the lugubrious “who are the real villains?” or “we have a system is dire need of reform.” But no, it would seem there is no moralizing at play, just an uninflected look into the lives and motivations of those who defend The System and those who try to revolutionize it.

written by David Ashley

Seen so far:
Starbuck
Ethel
Come As You Are
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
V/H/S
Sans Soleil
Dead Weight
Andrew Bird: Fever Year
Inland Empire
Bad Brains: A Band in DC
Pink Ribbons, Inc.
11 Flowers
How to Survive a Plague
Romancing in Thin Air
Elena
The Imposter
5 Broken Cameras
Goodbye
High Tech, Low Life
Big Boys Gone Bananas!*
Off White Lies
The Milwaukee Show
Las Acacias
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Policeman

Ranked:
Sans Soleil
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Inland Empire
Big Boys Gone Bananas!*
Goodbye
Elena
5 Broken Cameras
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Bones Brigade: An Autobiography
Policeman
Las Acacias
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
11 Flowers
Ethel
How to Survive a Plague
Andrew Bird: Fever Year
Bad Brains: A Band in DC
High Tech, Low Life
Come As You Are
Off White Lies
V/H/S
Pink Ribbons, Inc.
The Imposter
Starbuck
Romancing in Thin Air
Dead Weight

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