Review: The Rest
by Marta Bałaga
- Ai Weiwei continues to explore the refugee crisis, or rather the crisis of Europe – a continent still unable and unwilling to help
After the well-received 2017 title Human Flow [+see also:
film profile], it seemed quite surprising that Chinese superstar artist Ai Weiwei would consider returning to tackle the refugee crisis so soon, and yet after watching The Rest [+see also:
film profile], competing in the DOX:Award section of CPH:DOX, it actually makes perfect sense. Clearly much more comfortable now with the subject in question, he goes way deeper this time and – in a rather unexpected move, given his tendencies – completely takes himself out of the equation. Where Human Flow suffered from his tiring omnipresence, in some cases almost reeking of vanity, this time he really allows others to speak.
And speak they do – The Rest may just as well be called Lamentation, as people mourn their kin or talk about the ones they have just buried. That is, if they are lucky enough to find at least a “handful of bones”. The scenes at a makeshift cemetery devoted to those who perished at sea while trying to flee (or, rather, to what’s actually left of them) are bound to shake even those anaesthetised by the countless films and news stories with their familiar images of rubber dinghies bouncing around on the waves and tossing people around as they wrap themselves in space blankets, so cheekily shiny that it’s almost distasteful. “It’s mostly the women and children who die,” we hear, with a special corner of the cemetery devoted to the ones younger than two years old. “Sadly, that’s the situation.”
Ai Weiwei’s attempts to engage with the crisis haven’t always been successful – it’s enough to mention the infamous photo of a drowned Syrian child that he recreated by lying on the beach in a similar pose. But there is no denying that some of the moments in his new film are simply jaw-dropping, as it becomes apparent quite early on that the situation is not only not improving, but it’s actually getting much, much worse, with people no longer trying to hide their hostility towards newcomers. “This is a summer resort, and we can’t even eat fish now,” fumes an angry local, more annoyed by the changes in her diet than by the reason behind it, which is quite simple: there are too many dead bodies in the sea, and more hit the bottom every damned day.
Then there’s an elegant older man, who, upon seeing a group of exhausted refugees, simply can’t help himself, yelling out, “Long live Mussolini!” like it’s 1925 all over again. Well, maybe it is. And while Ai Weiwei does his best to find the ones who really do help, it’s as obvious as a slap in the face that whatever they are trying to do is simply not enough. “This is Europe? You have the feeling of being in a Third World country,” repeat the survivors, stunned by the kind of “warm welcome” they keep receiving, and sent to live in between borders in what seems like a purgatory, without a departure date. Only what awaits them at the end is not exactly heaven, but often a road back to the airport with nothing but a one-way ticket and someone’s relieved smile to bid them farewell.
The Rest, directed and produced by Ai Weiwei, is a Chinese-German production staged by AWW Germany GmbH. It is presented by FART Foundation.
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