Just the fac­tory, ma’am

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Casey Sanchez The New Mex­i­can

Last Train Home, glob­al­iza­tion doc/fam­ily soap opera, not rated, in Man­darin and Sichuan di­alect with sub­ti­tles, The Screen, 3 chiles

IZhang Changhua and Chen Suqin see their kids only a few days each year. Dur­ing the an­nual New Year’s hol­i­day, the cou­ple join 130 mil­lion other Chi­nese mi­grant fac­tory work­ers who toil in the in­dus­trial hub of Guangzhou prov­ince in flee­ing the coastal man­u­fac­tur­ing city for a brief re­prieve in the small heart­land towns from which they come. It is the world’s largest short-term hu­man mi­gra­tion, as if the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of Rus­sia or Ja­pan was sim­ply forced to find pas­sage on a train over the course of a few days.

This mas­sive mi­gra­tion is ex­pertly filmed in the open­ing scenes of Last Train Home as thou­sands of Chi­nese work­ers are seen run­ning, bar­ter­ing, talk­ing, fret­ting, all in an ef­fort to snag a ride on a New Year’s train that might not come. The film then turns its at­ten­tion to Changhua and Suqin as they pay more than twice the reg­u­lar fare to squeeze them­selves into a crowded, dingy train that will take two days to bring them home. In shot af­ter shot, view­ers must re­mind them­selves that ev­ery­thing is cinéma vérité, caught on the fly by very dar­ing cam­era­men who don’t fear wad­ing into crowds of hun­dreds of thou­sands of an­gry peo­ple.

To make the film, Chi­nese-born Cana­dian cit­i­zen Lixin Fan spent three years fol­low­ing Zhang and Chen as they strug­gled to hold their fam­ily to­gether while work­ing 14-hour shifts in a fac­tory a thou­sand miles away from their fam­ily. Fan finds beau­ti­ful shots in the grimy in­dus­trial towns along China’s south­east coast. He has a strong sense of how to merge the fam­ily’s per­sonal tale with the nar­ra­tive of an up-and-com­ing eco­nomic su­per­power.

This doc­u­men­tary is un­stint­ingly hon­est in show­ing what it means to be a mar­ried cou­ple whose mar­i­tal bed is a dor­mi­tory

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