Try to imagine 130 million people, all attempting to get home for the holidays. The mind reels, and so it should, for this is the largest human migration and it takes place in China every Chinese New Year. Seas of humanity swarm towards the train stations of migrant worker hubs such as Shenzen and Guangzhou, as millions of souls make their precious annual journeys to their rural homes, where family and festivities await.
Lixin Fan’s touching document of this stunning event focuses on one migrant couple, the Zhangs; charting their claustrophobic course from the confines of factory dormitories some 2100 miles home to their two teenage children. Sixteen years since leaving their eldest, Qin, in the care of her grandparents, the consequences of the Zhangs’ abandonment come home to roost. Though the parents’ singular, desperate wish is for their children to succeed at school and make better lives for themselves, Qin rebels (as teenagers are want to do), deciding to try her luck in the big smoke instead. The pain and disappointment of the hardworking Zhangs at their daughter’s decision is palpable, as Fan’s quietly beautiful camera captures all, including an incredibly uncomfortable confrontation between father and daughter.
For the style and the intimate restraint Fan displays, as well as the socio-economic reality check, The Last Train Home should be required viewing. Indeed cinema famously began with a shot of a train pulling into a station, so there is something of a coming home here too for audiences fortunate enough to experience this marvelous documentary.
Published by Street Press Australia
Screening TONIGHT at Possible Worlds