Review / ‘Human Flow’ (M) ****

DOCUMENTARIES are the message movies par excellence, providing windows on the human condition, views of the universe and challenges to issues.

In 2012, “Time” magazine listed the 100 most influential people in the world. One of them was Chinese creative polymath and humanist Ai Weiwei, whose gifts to human-kind include architecture, art, political activism and, at last count, 13 documentary films.

“Human Flow” spends 140 minutes telling whoever wants to know, about the more than 60 million human beings who are currently in flight from their homelands, seeking better lives. We know them as refugees. We can only imagine the awful conditions under which they are living. We should be grateful beyond measure that we do not share their plight.

“Human Flow” pulls no punches in depicting that plight. Watching it is an experience that I found not only distressing but also frustrating by its enormous coverage, its inexorable growth and its sober exposing of man’s inhumanity to man on a gigantic scale. Ai Weiwei is not making an appeal to our generosity; the issue is already beyond resolution for that to have any real effect.

In the film, one of the numerous representatives of organisations battling to alleviate the conditions speaks about root causes of the refugee problem – drought, poverty and war. The film pays less attention to religion than it probably deserves. Many of the fugitives come from Muslim societies.

The film does not offer solutions to those root causes. Its handsomely mounted images often make a heartbreaking contrast with its theme. Occasionally it’s even comical – a conversation at the US/Mexico border between a US Border Patrol officer and the filming crew may not be hilarious but it satisfies both definitions of “funny”.

Yes, it’s depressing. But that’s no reason to avoid it.

At Palace Electric

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