LAST TRAIN HOME (Lixin Fan, 2009)

Every year, 130 million Chinese travel home to the provinces from cities where they work for little pay; thus they contribute to their nation’s ascendency in the global economy. Over three years, Chinese-born Canadian filmmaker Lixin Fan, doubling as his own cinematographer, followed one married couple, Zhang Changhua and Chen Suqin, at hard labor in a textile factory in Guangzhou, where they sleep in a cramped dormitory, and on their annual trips back home, 1200 miles away, in Sichuan province. There, they reunite with their daughter and son, who are being raised by the children’s grandmother on the money that they’ve been sending home. Hoping to ensure that their children’s lives are better than theirs, including the benefit of higher education, Changhua and Sugin have become strangers to their offspring; deprived of daily parental attention, the elder child, Qin, has grown up increasingly selfish and materialistic. Qin abandons her brother for factory work in an urban center, perhaps unconsciously retaliating against her parents for “abandoning” her, but with the difference that she keeps all her pay for herself. She vanishes from the film: the formal embodiment of her having become a lost soul. Sugin decides she must leave her spouse to return home so that their son, Yang, doesn’t become “lost” as well. However, Sugin doesn’t want to “abandon” Changhua or make him solely responsible for the family’s upkeep, with herself added to the financial burden. But she must. Her agonizing and Changhua’s supportive acceptance combine for a gut-wrenching scene.
     Fan’s brilliant film opens with an overhead shot of massive numbers of people pushing into Guangzhou’s train station for their annual trip home. Open umbrellas of various colors contest their limited, monotonous urban existence.
     Documentary prizes at Amsterdam and from the Los Angeles critics.

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