Then, Klayman says, "June 22 came and went, and they gave him a piece of paper that said, 'Congratulations, your bail conditions are up.' But he still does not have his passport back. And he's living under this cloud of uncertainty."

A week after my conversation with Klayman, news broke that Ai had lost his appeal in the tax-evasion case, which was based on allegations Klayman called "unsubstantiated." A $2.4 million fine was upheld; Ai said he would continue to appeal.

In the film, Ai likens himself to a chess player, "waiting for my opponent to make the next move." Given China's continued aggressive play against him, at what point might the artist forfeit the game? What if he were to manage to get his passport back — is he committed to staying in China, or would he get out for good while he could?

Ai's one-finger salute to the world.
Ai's one-finger salute to the world.

Details

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,directed by Alison Klayman. 91 minutes. Rated R.

"I hope that he still has that choice — I feel like there's uncertainty about his ability to leave or his ability to come back," Klayman says carefully. "But I think his goal is still to remain based in Beijing as a Chinese citizen." She notes that Ai's critiques of China have a potency and a relevance coming from a resident that they might lose were he to become an expatriate.

"But," she acknowledges, "it may get impossible for him to create and to be himself in a total way."

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