Ai Weiwei has made a film that is perfectly “critic-proof”. No one, surely, will dare to say anything negative for fear of being labelled off-side on this sensitive issue. And let’s be clear: Human Flow really is a powerful, thought provoking, ambitious and visually amazing piece about the plight of the world’s estimated 65 million refugees. Even at a bum-numbing 140 minutes run-time, it never outstays its welcome, for Weiwei – as well-known as a visual artist as he is a political activist – has made sure this “call-to-action” work is as cinematically expressive as it is persuasive. It was filmed in 23 countries over two years by 200 filmmakers and no less than 20 cinematographers are listed in the credits (including Weiwei and Australia’s Christopher Doyle). And the result is stunning.
It seems weird saying this, but Human Flow might be too perfect. For how can skanky shantytowns, long miserable slogs in the icy mud and so much suffering look so good? Sure, artists are free to tackle any subject they like, but should the misery of so many victims of our inhumanity even be anesthetized in this manner? For most of the film I was emotionally swept away, but then towards the end a dead body (maybe a child, hard to say, it was clearly dismembered) was silhouetted against the late sky of a bombed Syrian village. It was so perfectly composed and lingered so long in the frame I actually started to squirm. My unease was because of an earlier scene, one of many, where the millionaire celebrity artist was shown comforting some refugees. It was on the Macedonian border (now closed with barbed wire, armed guards and snarling dogs) and Weiwei playfully “swapped” passports with a Syrian – for the duration of the shot, no doubt. And in an aside mentioned he lived in Germany and “had a studio in Berlin.”
Well, yes. Berlin, like the inner west of Sydney has some of the most expensive real estate on the planet. Everyone who’ll go along to this well-meaning film here has a similar safe haven too. Will it do anything other than make them slightly uncomfortable for a few minutes? And could it be that they’ll feel that just by virtue of seeing the images, of being “aware” of the problem, they have actually helped? M at Palace Norton St and Dendy Newtown from Mar 15 ★★★★ 1/2
That’s Not My Dog!
Shane Jacobson has at least redeemed himself for the dismal The BBQ, but only partially. Aussies are fast losing “the art of telling a joke”, he told us at the premiere – nowadays at the pub we just passively show each other YouTube clips rather than spin yarns. So in order to revive the old skill (or celebrate its passing?) he invited all his comedian mates (including Tim Ferguson, Rob Carlton, Jimeoin, Michala Banas, Paul Hogan and lots more) and a couple of tight bands of local musical legends (try and spot Russell Morris) to a party on his farm in rural Victoria and instructed everyone only to bring along their three best jokes. He miked them up and let the cameras rip – and that’s all That’s Not My Dog! is. The result is uneven at best. The participants all had a good time and were obviously well lubricated by a sponsor’s beer (was everyone instructed to keep the labels visible?) Clearly director Dean Murphy’s camera was saying – since they thought themselves so funny – so should we. And fair enough, I got a few good belly laughs, about the same number of wry smirks and more than a few wan smiles. There were some jokes I didn’t get too… but that’s better than even the best night at a rowdy pub or party these days. What did strike me was how many jokes were quite filthy. Not to be prurient or anything, it’s just that they were almost always spun by women. Haven’t they been silenced by #MeToo? At least one disapproving critic, Sandra Hall writing in the Sun Herald, thought they should be. Now let me tell you about the Irish woman who goes to a gynaecologist … M Limited season at Palace Central March 15 – 18 only. ★★1/2
Also opening this week
Reviews – Russell Edwards