Human Flow


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Human Flow
"Breathtaking and heartbreaking"


You have seen the boats arrive on the shores of some Greek island. You have seen the razor wire blocking their progress into Europe. You have seen the camps and you wonder, how will this ever end?

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Politics cuts through it. Politics and humanitarian aid. Wars. Here is a man sitting amongst the rubble of the house he spent his entire life building. Here is the body of a young African woman lying in the blow of hot desert winds. Here dreams of new beginnings fade and hope is drowned in the mud pools of Calais's jungle.

Like the sight of starving babies in Yemen, you can take only so much before you think you know it all and guilt begins to eat you from the inside. No more, O Lord, no more!

And now the controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has made a film about the subject. Already prejudice and a sense of dread attacks your better instincts and you turn away and join the queue for Justice League.

Nothing prepares you for this. Weiwei covers the globe. His use of aerial cinematography creates images you cannot forget. His approach is empathetic without being sentimental. He does not plead; he does not blame; he uses talking heads sparingly and refuses to use tragedy as opinion. His drum is silent. He observes. The numbers tell their story. Every day 35,000 people flee their homes somewhere in the world. Three million Syrians in Jordan. Four million Iraqis displaced since the US invasion. A third of Lebanon's population are refugees. And so it goes. A solitary cow, wounded by shrapnel, walks a deserted street in a ruined city. Figures in the dust in Kenya. A storm batters a makeshift tent upon a winter's field. Walkers on a road carrying everything they own. Old people. Children. Pulling down saplings. Fire. Anything to get dry.

Where this film leads is out of your comfort zone into a wasted land. "Where am I supposed to start my life?" the young man asks. Borders are closed. Guards and dogs patrol the wire. A German headline: "Europe Is Dead. Long Live Europe." The weather is against them. Society is against them. A Jordanian princess reflects with sympathy: "We must hold onto humanity."

Weiwei was tortured and incarcerated in his own country. He understands the price of artistic expression. He understands the power of truth.

Human Flow is saying so much by speaking so quietly. The art is in the visual image. How can beauty and despair meet? How can they relate? Right here. Right now.

Breathtaking and heartbreaking.

Reviewed on: 07 Dec 2017
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Human Flow packshot
An exploration into the global refugee crisis.
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Director: Ai Weiwei

Writer: Tim Finch, Chin-Chin Yap, Boris Cheshirkov

Starring: Boris Cheshirkov, Princess Dana Firas of Jordan, Marin Din Kajdomcaj, Ahmad Shuja, Marisa P. Elham and Family, Peter Bouckaert, Asmaa Al-Bahiyya, Filippo Grandi, Wella Kouyou, Israa Abboud, Muna Khalid Karraz, Muhammed Hassan, Hind Nahid, Samah Nabeel, Amir Khalil

Year: 2017

Runtime: 140 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Iraq, Germany, Israel, Mexico, Turkey, Jordan, US


Venice 2017

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The Movement