Last Train Home – Observes the Pawns of Global Market

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The rapid modernization, the economic miracles, we the privileged cherish must have happened due to the sacrifices of millions of humans. The railroads, booming industries, exquisite malls and apartments, the branded garments and every other thing we consider as the symbol of our economic growth came at a wrenching human cost. It has the sweat of millions of migrant workers, who toil themselves at industries and construction facilities, far from their home villages to make a meager amount to support the family. Chinese-Canadian film-maker Lixin Fan’s “Last Train Home” (2009) emotionally involving documentary shows us the aforementioned collateral damage of industrialization.

China has pushed itself to the top rank of global financial player. The shifting economic bases wreak havoc on certain impoverished areas and mostly thrive on the coastal areas. The famers and indigent workers are lured to these big cities with the promise of a higher wages in factories. This is not the case only in China. It happens in many countries (like our India), where the governments cherish financial improvement over human development. Lixin Fan’s observational documentary follows the lives of five members of the Zhang family, who can be seen like a metaphoric extension of the millions of migrant workers all over the world. The film opens with the sea of human bodies jam-packed inside a train station. They all take this trip, once a year in the Chinese New Year, to see their children and parents, residing in home village. The subtitles inform us that nearly 130 migrant workers take this trip and is said to be the largest human migration on the entire planet.

Zhang and Chen at the Guangzhou Railway Station

Zhang and Chen at the Guangzhou Railway Station

 “Last Train Home” was shot arduously over three years. By focusing on the plight of Zhang family, the film shows us the journeys, where they move back and forth between the industrial cities and their rural birthplace. Zhang and Chen are middle-aged couples, working in the garment factory for 15 years, situated in Guangzhou. They come from a village in Sichuan province (which is located 2000 km. from Guangzhou). They share a dormitory and work around the clock. Zhang and Chen take their one-week trip during Chinese New Year to visit the children: daughter has finished high school and the younger boy is studying middle school. The children are taken care by grandmother, who settled in the area when the Chinese government (decades back) was sending workers from cities to farms. She is another part of a long cycle of sacrifice, propelled by the shifts in state policy.

Lixin Fan

Lixin Fan

Zhang and Chen are loving parents, but their displacement and generational gap leaves them clueless about the children. The sullen looking 17 year old daughter, Qin resents her parents, especially the mother, for not being with her (“My parents barely lived with me. How can I have any feelings?” says Qin). She’s not happy with doing the farm work in the village and isn’t persistent about continuing the studies. To her parents’ dismay, she moves to a city and works in a factory for meager wages. The boy doesn’t nag Zhang but doesn’t look happy when his parents are around for the holidays. Among all this heartbreaking family problems, we see the ordeal Zhang takes for just getting a train ticket. Watching the hundreds of thousands of frantic migrants swarming, crying and sweating, just to get inside the train station becomes a kind of vision of hell. Lixin’s camerawork brilliantly captures the anguish and fevered chaos of this maddening crowd.

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Respect for one’s parents has guided domestic relations in Asian countries. This was put to test, when Qin utters a four-letter expletive word to her father. Zhang uses physical violence because he feels that the family values has been violated, while Qin represents the familial displacements of the contemporary society, where she can’t embrace the undying respect for a father she barely knows. Qin captures the moods of an entire new generation, who have lost their love and identity for the sake of an economist’s vision of growth.

 “Last Train Home” (90 minutes) shows us the lives of families, crushed between the pains of past and promise of the future. It is involving, honest, terrifying and doesn’t pretend to have an answer. Most importantly, it confronts us about our own privileged status.

 

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