Last Train Home - Lixin Fan (2009)


Every spring, China’s cities are plunged into chaos as 130 million migrant workers journey to their home villages for the New Year’s holiday. This mass exodus is the world’s largest human migration—an epic spectacle that reveals a country tragically caught between its rural past and industrial future.
Working over several years in classic verite style, Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Lixin Fan (with the producers of the award-winning hit documentary Up the Yangtze) travels with one couple who have embarked on this annual trek for almost two decades. Like so many of China’s rural poor, Changhua and Sugin Zhang left behind their two infant children for gruelling factory jobs. Their daughter Qin—now a restless and rebellious teenager—both bitterly resents their absence and longs for her own freedom away from school, much to the utter devastation of her parents. Emotionally engaging and starkly beautiful, Last Train Home’s intimate observation of one fractured family sheds light on the human cost of China’s ascendance as an economic superpower.

Runtime: 90 min.
Language: Chinese
Subs: English, hard-coded
Country: Canada/China
Format: Xvid Avi
Size: 700 MB
Video Quality: 942 kbps
Resolution: 624 x 352


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According to an introductory note that appears on screen at the beginning of Lixin Fan’s documentary “Last Train Home,” every year, during the lunar New Year, 130 million workers return from China’s industrial cities to their homes in the countryside. This temporary shift in population, which the film calls the largest human migration in the world, is one of those numbers that seem impossible to comprehend. One hundred and thirty million people, moving between work and family, stoking the engines that drive the machinery of worldwide consumer capitalism. What does that look like? What does it mean?
To suggest an answer to the first question, Mr. Fan, a Chinese-Canadian filmmaker whose guile and courage with the camera can seem almost magical, looks down at a throng of migrants pressing toward the train station in the southern city of Guangzhou. The crush of faces, possessions and umbrellas looks almost like an abstract composition, until you are in the middle of it, at which point it becomes chaotic and overwhelming. In what looks almost like a random encounter, Mr. Fan zeroes in on two individuals, a married couple whose travails will provide a painful, local illumination of a huge and complicated social phenomenon.
Zhang Changhua and Chen Suqin, who come from a rural village in Sichuan province, have worked in the factories of Guangzhou for 15 years, stitching and bundling garments, sharing quarters in a dormitory and returning home each year to visit their children. Zhang Qin, their daughter, is a high school student when the film starts, and her younger brother is in middle school. The children live with their grandmother, who settled in the area when the Chinese government was sending workers from cities to farms, and who is part of a long cycle of sacrifice and suffering propelled by changes in state policy and shifts in the global economy.
It is clear that Chen Suqin and her husband want a better life for their children, but their way of expressing this desire sounds, to Qin in particular, like nagging and unfair criticism. Her mother pesters her to improve her grades, and she has trouble accepting the authority of a parent she sees only for a few days a year. Eventually — Mr. Fan’s story unfolds slowly and episodically over the course of about three years — the girl leaves school to join her parents in urban factory work.
But rather than bringing them closer together, this shared ordeal only highlights a generational chasm that can hardly be confined to this family. Qin’s parents cling to old Confucian values and sturdy peasant customs, living modestly and thriftily in the service of the future. But Qin is not content simply to produce consumer goods that will be sold elsewhere; she also wants a share of the pleasure that the modern economy promises. On her day off from the factory she goes shopping with some young co-workers, ogling and sampling items made by girls like them or parents like theirs.
The changing social landscape of China — a change registered in drastic alterations of the physical and demographic environment — has proven to be fertile ground for that country’s movie directors, not all of whom enjoy official favor. “Last Train Home” complements Yung Chang’s “Up the Yangtze” (also produced by Mila Aung-Thwin), and also the work, both fictional and non-, of Jia Zhangke, the most prominent and protean of China’s current generation of socially critical filmmakers.
Like many of Mr. Jia’s films — “The World,” which deals with migrant workers, and “24 City,” about the closing of a factory in Chengdu — Mr. Fan’s documentary is informed by a melancholy humanism, and finds unexpected beauty in almost unbearably harsh circumstances. It tells the story of a family caught, and possibly crushed, between the past and the future — a story that, on its own, is moving, even heartbreaking. Multiplied by 130 million, it becomes a terrifying and sobering panorama of the present.
: ~ A.O. Scott


Tawan said...

very interesting, thank you very much :-)

gráinne o'dowd said...

Links are dead..any chance of a re-up?

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