The gray sky hangs like a cover over the deserted Wuhan train station revealed by an aerial shot. Nothing moves, the universe is as though purged of its colors, the streets emptied of their inhabitants. The only sign of life, the light of a few ambulances in front of a hospital. And we say to ourselves with dread that a 2021 documentary furiously resembles the science fiction films of the 20th century …
In 2017, Ai Weiwei released a first documentary, Human flow, devoted to migratory flows. This certainly meritorious film suffered from a handicap: the presence of its author. The Chinese artist staged himself there when he should fade away behind his subject and this nothing of arrogance causes a certain uneasiness. His second foray into the cinema is otherwise sharp and irreproachable objectivity since the director has only organized from his European asylum the raw material he had requested in China.
Coronation, or the “coronation” in English, contracts two words, “coronavirus”, and “nation”, to tell the emergence of the virus in China. Appeared on December 1, 2019 in Wuhan, reported on December 31, SARS-CoV-2 imposes containment in Wuhan on January 23, 2020 – then spread throughout the world. Ai Weiwei asks twelve inhabitants of the double-locked city to film their daily life. From some 500 hours of rushes, it draws the material for a health thriller coupled with a humanist manifesto.
The first sequence follows a return trip after long isolation on a deserted highway covered in snow. At gas stations, police checks are as regular as they are meticulous, but humor retains its rights: the infrared temperature gun has misfires (34.2 °, that’s not much …), the attendant finishes by turning the weapon against itself to check its operation. When the motorist returns home, he discovers that his fish did not survive his absence. Carp rotten in murky water quite aptly symbolizes the state of mind of humanity deprived of its freedom of movement.
The Chinese have succeeded in stopping the proliferation of the virus, but at what cost? By locking people up, by imposing a form of martial law, by multiplying the precautions until paranoia … It is with the fire hose that the hydroalcoholic solutions are administered. On people, garbage cans, gardens and even in the air – a tanker spits hydrogel by hectoliters …
The nursing staff disinfect their ears, cheeks and eyebrows for a long time before removing the mask. Doctors wear a double mask and visor, put on two or three hermetic overlays. They are under video surveillance when they change in three successive decontamination rooms so as not to fail in a manic protocol.
Health measures are causing unexpected victims, such as this worker who came to work on a site in Wuhan and who finds himself stranded, condemned to live in his car at the end of an underground parking lot while waiting for a hypothetical authorization to drive. A grandmother, a Maoist one day Maoist, reiterates her unwavering commitment to the Communist Party, recalls that it is by working together that we can move mountains. However, her enthusiasm seems to slow down when she understands that it is necessary to have a smartphone to enter a bus and that the authorities charge for isolation … The pandemic definitively invalidates the proverb according to which “The praying mantis can stop a cart “. The individual, this insect, is nothing compared to the chariot of the State.
The beautiful days are returning. Wuhan is off the hook, the virus locally defeated. But the ordeal has caused deaths and left indelible traces. We are witnessing other headaches with the bureaucracy to recover the ashes of the deceased – crushed jute bag, crushed by hand to enter the urn … A young woman recalls that “the shadow of this pandemic will darken our hearts forever ”.
To see on the FIFDH website (www.fifdh.org)