Real Talkies

Real Talkies

Every cut is a lie. It’s never that way. Those two shots were never next to each other in time that way. But you’re telling a lie in order to tell the truth. –Wolf Koenig.

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September 3, 2010 , , , , , , , , , ,

LAST TRAIN HOME (2009) – Lixin Fan

In China, 130 million migrant workers leave their rural homes to work in the big cities that churn out millions of “Made in China” goods for the consumption of the world. The migrants return to see their children and extended family only once a year on CHINESE NEW YEAR. Last Train Home is the story of the world’s largest human migration.

Lixin Fan’s documentary follows the Zhang family. Changhua and Sugin work long hours in a garment factory and live in cramped quarters in the city of Guangzhou in Guangdong Province. Their children Qin (daughter, 17) and Yang (son, 10) live in the village with their grandmother, while the parents work hard to make money and prevent their children from falling into the same pattern of life.

The film begins just before the 2007 holiday, when getting a train ticket is a herculean task. Somehow, Changhua and Sugin manage to secure an expensive ticket. Burdened with luggage, thousands of people cram onto long trains and spend several days traveling back to their home province on boats, buses and walking back to their villages.

Sugin left home when her daughter was one. The only thing on her mind is her children’s education. She believes that is their best bet out of migrant labor work. The first thing she checks on coming home is her child’s report card.

Huilang village in Sichuan Province is like an untouched paradise, lost in time. The visuals are breathtaking and life functions in stark contrast to the enclosed factories in the cities. One would think that the children are having a happy life.

But, the distance, isolation and lack of understanding of each other’s perspectives takes a toll on the relationship between Qin and her parents, leading to some intense scenes. She drops out of school and moves away to the city of Xintang in Guangxi Province and begins to sew in a clothing factory.

The following New Year she treks back home with her parents. Heavy snow results in travel disruption and huge crowds are stuck in paralyzed railway stations for over a week. Police and army struggle to maintain order and in the midst of all this Changhua’s family continue to bicker about Qin dropping out of school.

Back home, there is a violent and shocking physical altercation between Qin and her dad and she accuses her parents of not being around for her. Eventually, she leaves home to seek her freedom and fortune.

The film ends with Sugin feeling drawn to give up work and go back home. She does not want Yang to drop out of school like his sister. That leaves the burden of earning on the shoulders of Changhua  who is not exactly healthy and will be all by himself in the city.

The film offers an insight into the human migratory patterns, the stress on the family structure and the story of the folks behind the “Made in China” Label. I was fortunate to see the film at Silver Docs 2010 with Lixin Fan in attendance.  This is a classic verite style film about the human condition and I strongly recommend it.


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