Dissident Chinese multi-media artist Ai Weiwei released his new documentary in New York this week. Human Flow is massive, as it tries to condense the experience of 35 million people into two hours and twenty minutes. We saw much more shocking scope than we felt individual pain, although there was a bit of that, too, along with a piercing & ironic comment by an African over the different degrees of attention and thereby value that are assigned to the sufferings of different groups of human beings. We're always fighting hypocrisy and racism underneath it all. On top of that is politics—the struggle for Assad to survive against both ISIS and the surreptitious agendas of Western countries to dislodge him to gain access to Syria's resources (as we did in Iraq and Libya); the continuing oppression by Israel of 3.5 million Palestinians to hold onto their ancestral lands and to justify Israel's right to an exclusive ethnocracy that masquerades as a democracy. And on top of that is the desperate work of relief agencies, both UN and national to receive, process and sustain these uprooted people; versus various national efforts to contain, restrain and disburse them, such as Hungary's razor-wire-chain-link wall and France's night burning of "Les Jungles," the tent-city staging area for refugees in Calais trying to get to the UK.
Ai appears a number of times throughout the movie, an almost comic presence, with his beard and belly, but one, like a signature, meant to signal the honesty of his attempt to encompass the whole issue globally, an impossible task, but one that he's the only one to have tried to do. His most effective appearance is on the US-Mexico border, where he personally talks to a border guard riding by on a motorcycle, who instructs him to stay on the US side of the border, which is marked only by a post in the desert. He returns to his cohorts, and they laugh about it—as one is reminded of the last scene in Jean Renoir's La Grande illusion (1937), where the WWI German officer tells his men to stop shooting at the escaping Jean Gabin & comrade, two moving black dots over a blank snowfield, since they have crossed the (invisible) border into Switzerland.
In the end, though, there is no analysis of the political causes and little focus on the environmental causes of the migrations, and only the most lame, hortatory "one-world" humanistic prescriptions about our duty to solve the problems. That is, there was no analysis of the destructive power relations that have caused these migrations, so nothing about the sociopathology of the leaders involved.
At the Angelika on West Houston Street in New York.