Review by Sean Boelman
It isn’t usually a good thing when a film makes one angry, but that isn’t the case with activist/artist/filmmaker Ai Weiwei’s magnificent documentary Cockroach. Upsetting in an eye-opening way, this movie is more deserving of the description of “essential viewing” than any other this year.
In the film, Weiwei takes a look at the protests that occurred in Hong Kong in 2019 and the circumstances that led the people to take to the streets. Perhaps most shocking is the fact that this story didn’t receive as much global news coverage as it deserved, as much of the information and footage presented here is going to be startling and unexpected to viewers.
Weiwei leaves no other option for the audience other than to feel disgust at what they are seeing. Footage of brutal attacks by the police against the protesters makes up a majority of the movie’s content, and it is truly disturbing. It’s undeniably hard to watch as these people fighting for freedom are quite literally beaten to near death.
The average viewer may find themselves put off by the idea of watching an hour and a half of material on such a grim subject, but it is important to realize that this is the unfortunate truth of our world. The repetition of similar incidents reinforces the idea of how widespread this violence actually is.
Even though this film specifically relates to the turmoil that happened in Hong Kong, its message still rings true across the globe. It is hard not to have a contempt towards a government that describes protesters hoping to peacefully stand up for their rights as “rioters” as justification to use extreme force.
That said, Weiwei approaches these activists as more than victims. He emphasizes not only the atrocities committed against them, but the amazing things that they are doing to help other people in the community. Interviews with artists that are using their talents to support the cause make the movie even more emotionally moving.
And while a majority of the film is made up of footage from the front lines, that doesn’t mean that Weiwei took a simple point-and-shoot approach. Instead, he has created an immersive experience that is really unnerving. The sound design is one of the best of the year, brilliantly creating tension and supplementing the footage.
Cockroach is one of the best documentaries of 2020. Ai Weiwei has managed to tackle one of the most important and difficult issues facing the world today in a way that is angering and thought-provoking in a way that is absolutely necessary.
Cockroach streams on Alamo on Demand beginning December 18. Tickets can be purchased here.