Sunday, September 5, 2010

Last Train Home

The best Chinese documentaries of the past decade seem designed to fuel our apocalyptic imagination. Whether in the post-earthquake wasteland of Du Haibin’s 1428, the critiques of Kafka-esque bureaucracy in Zhao Liang’s Crime and Punishment and Petition, or the monumental portrait of a declining industrial district in Wang Bing’s West of the Tracks, we discover a world in which the center is barely holding and the stakes could not be higher. This is severe, tough-as-nails realism that tests the audience’s endurance, even as the life-and-death urgency beneath the surface makes it difficult to turn away.

Rivaling China’s finest documentarians, first-time director Lixin Fan begins his Last Train Home with a handful of unshakable images. First he presents a stunning aerial view of the nation’s overflowing masses, slowly panning left until the screen is clogged with a sea of migrant workers waiting for their train ride home for the Spring Festival. A subtitle bills this claustrophobic vision as the largest annual human migration in the world. Soon after, Fan cuts back to the kind of dingy, fluorescent-lit environments where this floating underclass spends the rest of the year eking out an existence. His camera repeatedly returns to the endless piles of blue jeans lying around the Guangzhou factory where his central subjects, a middle-aged married couple, make just enough money to fund their children back in faraway Sichuan. [The rest of the post can be read at Film Comment.]


Ruchi said...
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chandra said...
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