Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Last Train Home

Every Spring in China more than 130 million workers jam train stations in desperate attempts to travel home for the New Year holiday — a mass exodus from industrial cities that constitutes the world’s largest human migration. For many travelers the journeys are extremely difficult ones (grueling distances, crammed-beyond-capacity trains) but represent their one opportunity to reunite with family all year.

In the beautifully stark, jaw-droppingly honest, and very moving documentary Last Train Home, director Lixin Fan focuses on one couple, Changhua and Sugin Zhang, beginning as they embark upon a two-day journey to their poverty-stricken rural birthplace to see their children. And it’s not a happy holiday for everyone: The Zhangs’ dearest wish is to earn enough money to provide their kids a good education, but teenage daughter Qin, resentful of their extended absences (and, in her mind, abandonment), eventually decides to drop out of school to work in a factory herself — a crushing blow to her parents which leads to a deeply painful confrontation with her dad.

The extraordinarily intimate collaboration with the Zhangs reminded me a lot of the Yung Chang-directed, Lixin Fan-produced Up the Yangtze, which exquisitely observed one of many families displaced by the mammoth Three Gorges Dam project. Last Train Home similarly places a human face on China’s rise as a world economic power, illustrating the true cost of progress in a country stuck between its industrial future and rural past.

{Screens Saturday 6/12, 6p and Sunday 6/13, 1:30p, Pacific Place.}