Frequent documentary topic Ai Weiwei stepped behind the digicam to make his personal docu-essay Human Movement, spending years touring the world to search out pictures that illustrate our seemingly endless refugee disaster, which has these days turn into a political wedge problem in some international locations—together with america. As somebody who’s moved everywhere in the planet and has handled political oppression in his native China, Ai is deeply invested in the concept that unusual folks ought to have the best to reject oppressive and unstable regimes, to journey wherever they need, and to settle wherever they will. That’s the case he makes with Human Movement, which is cut up between intimate portraits of the displaced and despairing illustrations of how the system’s stacked in opposition to anybody compelled to depart residence.
However as a result of he’s a visible artist in addition to an activist, Ai makes positive that his documentary is expressively cinematic—typically to a fault. There have been plenty of gripping “you might be there” movies about refugees over the previous few years, however Human Movement distinguishes itself from the pack with how good-looking it seems. Eschewing narration and maintaining interviews and fly-on-the-wall conversations to a minimal, Ai asks viewers to gaze intently at sluggish, gliding monitoring and overhead photographs, transferring throughout the teeming lots of humanity and their makeshift new houses. Primarily by means of pictures, Ai captures how mini-societies kind in the course of the pure strategy of human migration, and he pictures the man-made constructions meant each to accommodate and to comprise.
Ai’s strategy sometimes suggestions too far towards aestheticizing a dire scenario. He makes shanty cities and lengthy slogs by means of the wilderness look so fairly that some viewers could also be lulled. Even with the alarming newspaper headlines and statistical factoids that pop up on the display periodically, the documentary at instances feels faraway from precise experiences. It’s clear truthful sum of money and assets have been directed towards the making of Human Movement. (In keeping with the press notes, over 200 crew-members labored on it, in over 20 international locations.) The heft of the manufacturing may be stifling.
It additionally works in opposition to Ai’s trigger to some extent that in making an attempt to inform the bigger story of refugees, he doesn’t ship any single compelling narrative. Human Movement options some some robust, heartbreaking testimonial anecdotes, but it surely skips round a lot that the viewers doesn’t actually get the prospect to know Ai’s topics. The movie wants extra easy, off-the-cuff, humanizing moments just like the one the place a refugee pulls out her cellphone to point out off her favourite photos of cats carrying garments. These few seconds say extra about how any one among us can find yourself displaced than all of Human Movement’s numbers and knowledge factors.
All of that stated, what this film lacks in relatable, down-to-earth drama, it makes as much as a substantial diploma with scope. By capturing in Europe, the Center East, Asia, and the Americas, Ai will get throughout the vastness and selection of the present refugee downside. Individuals across the globe are being pushed out of their houses by all the pieces from civil struggle to local weather change, and so they’re steadily touchdown in international locations that don’t know what to do with them, by way of educating their younger or getting their adults paying work. Regardless of the origin of any refugee group’s dilemma, the endpoint is commonly a purgatorial resettlement camp, the place they’re fed and housed however don’t have anything to do—and no permission to depart.
If there’s a bigger level, then, to Ai’s clean, dynamic camerawork, perhaps it’s to seize the deeper aspirations of those males, girls, and youngsters on the opposite finish of the lens. In one of many movie’s extra dramatic scenes, Ai shoots close to the U.S./Mexican border, and will get a well mannered however agency warning from a patrolman who tells him to remain on the American aspect, which is designated by a single wood submit. Via visuals alone, Ai asks a pertinent query: If our eyes can transfer freely throughout that line, why can’t our ft?