Last Train Home (Lixin Fan, 2009): Canada, China, UK

Reviewed by Lea Encarnacion.  Viewed as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Last Train Home is a documentary about the life of factory workers and migrant workers in China.  As a first directorial film by Lixin Fan,  it showed the chaos and the struggle that the Chinese people have to live and deal with everyday.  I felt it was a dirty and depressing story, but I liked the way the film was shot, edit, directed and laid out.  There were shots in the film that filled the screen with the mass of people all crowded and packed together, inhumanely like sardines or sheep.  It was mostly darkly lit, either indoors in low light or outdoors at nighttime.

It follows a young girl who works in a factory, who left her schooling and gave up her education in order to work instead.  For her, it gives her freedom and independence, but to her family it is an unwise decision.  They want her to be in school but they are also poor and need money to pay the bills.  They are shown trying to get home for Christmas which is only a few days away.  The trains are all sold out and they are in despair to get home – as they are stranded with thousands of other people waiting for a chance to get on the train as they are.

After waiting in the crowd in the cold night, they finally are able to board the very unsafe and jam packed train.  There is little space for everyone’s luggage, much less breathing room and space for air.  They get home to a  tiny, unfurnished, plain single story one bedroom home where their grandmother lives.  The family is all together, but things turn sour as the father and daughter get into a fight about independence issues.

The film ends with a mural depiction of a sea of umbrellas as they head back home in the rain.  The impact this film has forces you, as a member of the audience, to look at your own life and compare it, and see all the little things that we take for granted when living our daily lives. The audience members were mostly elderly people – some who commented that after seeing the film – one cannot be but thankful for what we have for a life in the United States.

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