Friday, May 14, 2010

Last Train Home (2009)

I saw Lixin Fan's documentary about the mass migration of 150 million Chinese each Chinese New Year at the New Directors New Films series that ran at Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art at the beginning of April.

This is a film who's subject matter boggles the mind. Think about it 150 million people, roughly half the population of the United States, going home for the holidays every year. If you ever wanted to see what it would be like to evacuate a big city during a huge disaster, this will show you. Its frightening and haunting. Its truly amazing that these people choose to do this every year. Once would have been enough for me.

The film focuses on one family from the country. Mom and dad have been living the migrant existence of living in the city working in a factory. They only come home for New Year. Their kids are raised by Mom's mother. There is friction as the kids crash heads with the parents they barely know. We watch the cycle of three years as the parents come and go, and how the daughter herself heads into the city in search of money (and to get away from, or perhaps be near, her parents). Its a tale that is repeated millions of times all over China.

To be honest this is an uneven film. The problem is that the family stuff kind of stagnates. There is a point where the sameness of these peoples lives becomes a bit one note. Yes, you care for them, but there is a point at which we stop learning anything new. The cycle simply continues unabated.

On the other hand the material focusing on the migration and on the lives lived by the workers is truly amazing. This is really a slice of life that we never see. Your mouth will drop open in amazement. Its good enough on its own to warrant seeing this film if you get the chance.

Currently in the cycle of film festivals this film is connected to Sundance and if I heard them correctly the POV TV series.

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