Film & TV

"Last Train Home" Calculates the Human Cost of a Chinese Miracle by Mapping a Family Tragedy

Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Lixin Fan's prize-winning documentary is an intimate portrait of an unfathomable immensity, focusing on a single family caught up in the world's largest mass migration. Opening overhead shots show a huge mob waiting in the rain to push their way into China's Guangzhou railroad station for the annual New Year's journey, which is made by 130 million workers to their homes in the nation's rural outback. Fan then picks up on the struggle waged by the Zhangs, a married couple of Guangzhou factory workers, to reach their Sichuan village 1,200 miles away. However arduous Last Train Home may have been to shoot, it was infinitely more arduous to live. Like migrant workers everywhere, the Zhangs are exploited. For 17 years, the couple has sent money home to support the two children being raised by a peasant grandmother. Their same-time-next-year relation with the kids comes to a boil just in time to be documented by Fan. While the Zhangs push their children to study hard, the furious teenager Qin is convinced that her parents have abandoned her. She defiantly drops out of school to herself become a migrant worker. Last seen, Qin is bussing tables at a disco, while ancient grandma labors alone in the field. Last Train Home calculates the human cost of the Chinese miracle by mapping a family tragedy presumably multipliable by millions.

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J. Hoberman
Contact: J. Hoberman