Human Flow Screen 6 articles

Human Flow

2017

Human Flow Poster
  • Make no mistake: there are graphic, shocking moments here, in particular a scene outside Mosul that is viscerally upsetting. And there are scenes of gentle humor and human connection too. But for the most part we never remain long enough with any one person to get more than a cursory idea of their story, and so over the course of the film’s 140 minute runtime, we end up with a sense of the crisis as a tragedy, yes, but a choral, abstract one.

  • The images he shows us are harrowing and recurring: We see lots of people walking, walking, walking, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and very often clutching small children. But every once in a while Ai himself will step before the camera, and his face brings some extra, temporary light. He’s an empathetic, calming presence, not a lecturing one, and he leads by example. If he can care this much, we can too.

  • These drone views help give “Human Flow” a velvety smooth look that is occasionally punctuated by jagged cellphone images, at least some of which Mr. Ai seems to have shot. Drone visuals can come off as faddish, gimmicky, but the airborne material here consistently puts Mr. Ai’s ideas into pure, visual terms.

  • Today 65 million people have been forcibly displaced, more people than in the time period following World War II. Ai manages to show both the massive scale of the problem while at the same time putting a human face to the problem, something that news reports are often unable to do. The film is filled with a sense of urgency coupled with hope, revealing the shared human condition that unites us all.

  • In a scene of startling beauty in Ai Weiwei's Human Flow, a group of refugees huddles together, with light bouncing off golden insulation blankets handed out by workers to warm them up as they arrive off a boat in Europe. Ai's work is often meant to provoke, but the shot isn't meant to plunder suffering for art's sake. It's a moment of noticing, in a gorgeous-looking documentary that never spares us the ugly, unspeakable miseries of forced migration.

  • It's designed to be experienced on a big screen. Ai uses staggering landscape shots and dynamic low-angle compositions to frame his subjects against great expanses of sky, and when he shoots people in close-up, he excludes almost anything that might distract from their faces or bodies, rendering them monumental.

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