Last Train Home

Cast: Changhua Zhan, Suqin Chen, Qin Zhang,Yang Zhang; Music: Olivier Alary; Direction: Lixin Yan

Lixin Yan’s Last Train Home has the qualityof a home video production. Its actors are mostly amateur performers who seemto think they are in an annual day school play. It lacks a coherent plot. Yet, whata spectacular emotion it evokes!

Every year in China, migrant workers in thecities visit their native places for the Chinese New Year. More than 140 millionpeople travel during this time, making the largest human migration in a span oftwo weeks. These workers are merely cogs in the massive wheel that spins aroundChina’s urban centres: the factories that manufacture all sorts of goods forthe consumption of the West. So there’s a factory that produces jeans, anotherproduces tennis racquets. The workers live in squalid conditions, not becausethe pay is less but because they want to save every Yuan available to send backhome, to send their children to schools. Their grandparents raise the children.

Children don’t know their parents because theysee them only once a year. So they don’t know their parents and even resentthem for not being there. They hate the countryside, which is dull and filledwith the aged. On the contrary, the city life must be exciting because there isaction and money. Surely their parents wouldn’t have left them and gone thereif it was not an exciting place?

They don’t even know what their parents gothrough to just visit them during the Chinese New Year. With 140 milliontravelling, it must be next to impossible to get the tickets and even if youdid, you will have to elbow fight with hundred others to get into the trains. Theticketing process and the train journey shown in the film make Indian Railwayslook like Eurostar service.
The movie works like part-documentary and part-feature.The characters talk to themselves, apparently in an attempt to explain theirsituation, as if a press correspondent is sitting next to them with a mike.These soliloquy sessions are important in establishing the story for thenon-Chinese audience. The camera is even self-consciously present at somescenes where the characters talk straight to it, with one character shouting atthe camera, ‘Don’t you have better job than filming me?’

This filming technique is new. And it worksas an essential tool for Lixin Yan to present the story with as neutrally aspossible. There is no one to blame for the problems. Nobody is a villain andnobody is a victim. They have their own choices and make their own lifedecisions. Except in using profanity in front of one’s father. Then you get agood, tight slap. Yours truly being one of the victims, he can totally identifywith that scene!