HUMAN FLOW and the Beauty of Sorrow

The director and well-known artist of HUMAN FLOW, Ai Weiwei, created an amazing piece on the human condition: it presents the journey of the 65-million refugees who walk across the world in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.  They are fleeing wars, climatic change, poverty, and discrimination.


HUMAN FLOW was filmed in 23 countries, among them Lebanon, Syria, Greece, Italy, France.  It is much more than “a moving picture”: HUMAN FLOW elicits emotions beyond compassion.   It took the courage and the talents of an extraordinary filmmaker, a photographer, a composer, and dozens of local participants – as well as the distribution team of Magnolia and Amazon Studios to document the tribulations, challenges and hardships of human beings filmed in aerial views, in close-ups, or in groups.   The images beautifully present the “big picture” of refugees (huge pans of lands covered with refugee camps) and the smaller picture of their plight—individuals, children, women whose pain and survival skills create deep sorrow about the politics at the root of their tragic fate.


HUMAN FLOW is moving, well documented, inspiring; it also includes quotations from Turkish and Kurdish poets, Buddhist philosophers that appear regularly on the screen. Definitions of the term refugee, reminders of how human rights have been defined by the European Union, figures that report the numbers of displaced people in each country after the onset of the Iraq war give the movie an invaluable educational dimension.


Whether one already knows about refugees or not, taking two hours out of your Black Friday weekend at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s Film Club screening, is an experience for your intellect and your heart.  Ai Weiwei was not content to film the refugees: he lived with them, walked at their side, shared their daily existence.  He brings about the compassion every human being should experience when becoming aware of this dire picture of our present world:  people who have lost everything and cross borders that are suddenly closed to them, those who face rain, rivers, wade in the mud, experience deaths of family members, walk in sorrow through a cemetery full of those who did not survive the crossings, deprivation, and humiliation.  It would be sheer indifference not to take action after one listens to the poignant interviews of the refugees as well as their representatives from the United Nations and other organizations such as Human Watch.

A few images, moments and quotes stuck to my mind.  One showed silent refugees posing on a white background:  no words were uttered; indeed, which ones could express their condition? Another one showed Africans coming out of a boat and being handed light gold blankets which made them look like a group sculpture shaking in the wind.

Yes, mankind should be ashamed of letting such events happen on our planet, mankind should also be proud of having among us individuals who are determined to save others.

“You killed me, and like you, I forgot to die” was one of the quotes from a poet.

HUMAN FLOW.  A tribute to life, an appeal to our consciousness.

Reviewed by Martine Bourdeau


HUMAN FLOW and the Beauty of Sorrow

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