Last Train Home *** ½
Directed by: Lixin Fan
China’s economy has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years getting to a point now where they are one of the most important economies in the entire world. Everything, it seems, is now made in China and their manufacturing sector has become the largest employer it has. But what effect has their economic boom effected their citizens? Lixin Fan’s documentary Last Train Home looks at the price of this new economy on one family.
This family lives out in the country – a farming area – yet they cannot make ends meet on farming alone. So both the father and the mother have to travel thousands of miles to find jobs sewing clothes or doing other such menial labor. They send the money they back home – where their parents are essentially raising their children. The only time they get to come home is on Chinese New Year. The lines at the train are huge – 130 million people do what they are doing, and all are trying to get back home – and when something goes wrong with the trains, which seems to happen often, they can be stuck at a station for days on end – only to be herded aboard the trains when they do get there like cattle.
The parents regret the decisions they made that lead them to this point. They wish they would have stayed in school and gotten better jobs – jobs that would allow them to stay with their families. They impress upon their two children the importance of school getting made at their son when he only places fifth in his class – they want him to be number 1. Yet, there is only so much parenting you can do by phone, and as teenagers around the world always do, their daughter rebels against them. She drops out of school, leaves home and gets a job just like her parents before her did. To her money equals freedom. When the family finally does get together, the parents are still on her about going back to school – something that leads to a physical confrontation that is scary and intense.
Last Train Home is an intimate, sometimes beautiful, sometimes harsh documentary that follows this family through the course of several years. It is a stunningly honest look at the cost this economy is having on the citizens of China, and their family units, which they value highly. Had Fan still been living in China, this film may never have seen the light of day, since they are so strict on what they allow their filmmakers to show in their films. But luckily for us, he emigrated to Montreal, where he edited together his film, which is a valuable piece of filmmaking – a vital and important film about an issue few ever bother to look at closely.