|Gui tu lie che 2009 China, Canada, UK Last Train Home|
I recommend this "documentary" to everyone. There are glowing and heartfelt reviews of it aplenty, and I don't object to any of the ones I've read. The film made me cry and it stayed with me for a long time, but there is one thing that bothered me about it: its complete lack of any joy whatsoever.
Last Train Home is nominally about the largest human migration on earth, that of 130,000,000 Chinese migrant workers who travel from the cities they work in back to the villages they came from for the Lunar New Year Holidays—a huge cultural event in China. One hundred and thirty million people, and no joy? I'm not suggesting the film makers had an obligation to assemble a tourist brochure and show shiny happy people everywhere. Many films use cultural events as backdrop to a story without commenting directly on the event itself, but I felt Last Train Home did comment by omission, and I was frustrated by it.
Documentary film makers always make choices about how best to tell a story, and they almost always hedge their bets a little on the fine line between creating and simply observing a story. Not to mention the Observer Effect. On the other hand, Last Train Home isn't about the New Year Celebration much at all. It's about generation gap and changing times in China exemplified by the enormity of hell people go through during the New Year, and it's frighteningly good at telling that story.
Speaking of frightening, there is a moment in the film where the whole thing breaks down, something which would ordinarily be left on the cutting room floor or assigned to the "Making of ..." section of a DVD, but the director left it in, and it will give you a jolt. I promise.
Summary: A family embarks on an annual tormenting journey along with 200 other million peasant workers to reunite with their distant family, and to revive their love and dignity as China soars as the world's next super power. Amid this chaos, director Lixin Fan focuses on one couple, Changhua and Sugin Zhang, who embark upon a two-day journey to see their children.
The Zhangs left their rural village for factory jobs when their children were just infants. Now a teenager, daughter Qin resents their continual absence. Yearning for her own freedom, she quits school to work in a factory herself. Her parents, who see education as their children’s one hope, are devastated.
Through its intimate and heartbreaking observation of the Zhangs, Last Train Home places a human face on China’s ascendance as an economic power. To overwhelming effect, Fan illustrates the cost incurred by fractured families and reveals a country tragically caught between its industrial future and rural past.