China has the largest migration of human beings on the planet.
Each year, 130 million migrant workers try to get “home” for the Chinese New Year. The nation’s transportation system isn’t up to the task and getting home is a major hassle.
A large percentage of these workers are forced to leave their children in the care of their elderly parents or other relatives. The goal is to make enough money to keep the kids in school and give them a better life. That also means when they return home the parents are more like visiting aunts and uncles than mother and father.
It’s a growing cultural dilemma explored by Chinese/Canadian director Lixin Fan in Last Train Home, which is featured Friday by the Battelle Film Club. Fan follows the lives of one family for three years. The separation leads to expected anger, resentment and conflict.
At one point, the couple is not able to return home for three years. Those are formative years for children and once the family reunites, they barely recognize each other. The couple’s daughter has no respect for her parents. Mom is seen as a nag, and dad doesn’t communicate at all.
Scenes together are awkward. One turns violent.
The disintegration of the family and the mistakes made by the teenage girl are fascinating, revealing and familiar. Parents in all industrialized nations can relate. For many, career has become the focus rather than parenting.
Fan’s film is flawed, though. He does a terrible job of giving you a sense of time and space. While you understand that the trip home is long and arduous, you have no idea where the parents are working in relationship to where their children live and the distances involved. And unless you do some research, there is no real sense of how much time passes during the documentary.
Another phenomenon explored is the migration itself. Fan’s documentation of the mass of humanity moved by the nation’s antiquated rail and transportation system is mind-boggling. It makes the traffic and people jams we experience pale in comparison. People are packed like proverbial sardines onto platforms as they await the train. The same happens when they are in the trains.
A breakdown of the rail system causes some travelers to be stranded and standing for days with nowhere to go, no food, no water and few facilities.
This would have made a unique documentary on its own.
Mr. Movie rating: 4 stars
Not rated. Probably PG-13. It plays Friday, April 22nd only at the Battelle Auditorium at 8:00 p.m.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.