The Brag

[Sydney Film Festival 2010] Review: Last Train Home

In Arts, Film Reviews, Sydney Film Festival 2010 on June 9, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Last Train Home (CANADA-CHINA)

Next screening: Thursday June 10 / 2.30pm / Dendy Opera Quays

Qin is faced with a dilemma. Raised by her grandmother in rural China’s Sichuan province, she only sees her parents when they travel back from their monotonous Guangzhou factory work for Chinese New Year. They encourage her to study hard so she can find a well-paid job to support herself and her family. But Qin feels closer to her grandmother than her parents, and she resents the burden of responsibility – shouldn’t a teenager be allowed to have fun, not work, and shop for fur coats?

As the harsh reality of life for these struggling Chinese migrant workers dawns on Qin, it dawns on us, too. A multiple award-winner, Last Train Home is a powerful documentary. It excels in largely wordless montages of the workers, who send over 90% of their earnings back home to support the families, with the meagre remainder providing necessities such as food and clothing.

Each year, the pilgrimage the family makes back to rural Sichuan is a journey made by millions of others in this Chunyun period. In 2008, the number of rail passenger journeys during these holidays hit 2.26 billion, greater than the country’s population. The first year we see the Zhang parents travel back, it’s with relative ease. But the following – once Qin has abandoned her schooling to join them in the factories – they’re swamped in a flood of people clambering desperately to board the scarce trains.

The desperation on people’s faces is dreadfully moving, as is the tension in the fractured family unit – especially in an horrific scene between Qin and her otherwise subdued father – an explosive moment captured extraordinarily by director Lixin Fan. “You want to film the real me?” a furious Qin cries to the camera, “This is the real me!” It’s not every day you see such raw, authentic emotion captured on screen. [JB]

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