Just the factory, ma’am
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