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admin 04.08.2015

Rarely have the dynamics of a loving yet unhealthy relationship been explored with such tenderness and insight. Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. A report from a panel at Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival about diversity in the light of the 2015 Oscar ceremony. This is inevitable: Painful social conflict will arise between those Chinese citizens who produce consumer goods for the world, and those Chinese who want to consume them. The film opens like a big-picture documentary, showing us a huge crowd being directed by police as it grinds its way forward.
PBS has done all of us a favor by offering free streaming of the award-winning documentary Last Train Home on its website until February 11.
I could tell you how much I enjoyed this movie, directed by Lixin Fan and produced by the same company behind the China documentaries Up the Yangtze and China Heavyweight, and how highly I recommend it. In the bowels of the station, our vision is pointed down a concrete gully daubed with the pale glow of cylindrical fluorescent lights.
Trucks and vans lumber down Guangzhou’s congested streets, flanked by banners and ads for restaurants, hotels, spas.
Inside the six-story factory, delicate hands feed cloth and linen through hissing, rusted sewing machines. A man with an awkwardly large pair of black scissors snips at a delicate, flower-embroidered fabric. When work ends, the couple retires to their dorm, where the concrete walls are smudged and the floor is imprinted with the muddy outline of a hundred different shoes.
After she is done, she soaks her feet in a bucket of hot water, then dries them with a rag kept behind a curtain. Chinese-Canadian director Lixin Fan initially sets the scope for his 2009 documentary Last Train Home incredibly wide, shooting masses of impatient, crowded people all trying to get to the same place first.
But then, Fan goes intimate and takes us into the lives of Changhua Zhan and Suqin Chen, a married couple working in a clothing factory in the city of Guangzhou. Last Train Home serves as both an extremely personal portrait (one that grows increasingly uncomfortable as the film progresses) and an examination of a microcosm of a large portion of Chinese society, where socioeconomic factors have driven millions to move away from their families in hopes of giving them an eventual better life. Changhua and Suqin are adamant about seeing their children succeed in school, and their love for their son and daughter is plainly apparent. Last Train Home shows the work of an expert filmmaker both in its production and post-production elements.
The DVD features about 15 minutes of extra footage, divided between scenes from the Guangzhou train station and Qin’s travel from the country to Shenzhen City.
We are informed that these are some of the 130 million Chinese citizens who make an annual train journey from urban centers to their provincial villages — “the largest human migration in the world.” Umbrellas of every description protect them. You will receive a weekly newsletter full of movie-related tidbits, articles, trailers, even the occasional streamable movie.
Instead, please allow me to share the beginning of a 19,000-word amanuensis I wrote a few years back, for the hell of it, because I thought this film deserved it.


They flow with the tide, and divested of agency, individuals are freed from obligations of human compassion, sympathy, and courtesy. Here is the postcard of a modern Chinese city: a layer of buildings, a mildewed sheet of fog, some construction cranes. One thinks: prehensile creatures are not meant to perform this act, yet we should not understate the importance of the human touch, even on machines and their mechanical lockstitches, for just look at the selvage on the bottom of your jeans, or embroidery on cotton T-shirts. The film makes it clear that Changhua and Suqin don’t find it to be a fulfilling life, but they do it for the good of their children.
Whether shooting masses of people or just a pair; the industrial emptiness of the factory or the natural beauty of the country, Fan captures images that give the viewer a distinct sense of place, and each location feels tangible. The theatrical trailer is also included as well as a booklet featuring a short interview with Fan. It's one of those extraordinary films, like “Hoop Dreams,” that tells a story the makers could not possibly have anticipated in advance. He walks toward the camera, which is perched high and panning left, and quickly we understand that the emptiness on the right of our screen is a foil for the congestion on the left, the serried bodies so tightly packed that we lose the human face, the human arm, the leg, the semblance of movement: we see only a concourse of black-haired beings corralled by a vertical line of officers as barricade. Toddlers sit atop merchandise – navy jeans, in this scene – while women affix price tags to the products. He is meticulous, but he seems miscast at his humble workstation, where the aural accompaniment is that of sharp needles greedily nibbling at their fare. Train stations are stuffed to the breaking point with travelers and tickets are at a premium.
Eventually, with only a few days to spare, they are able to purchase a pair at enormously inflated prices. Qin’s utter rejection of that ideal leads to several difficult moments that Fan captures with an unblinking intensity. The film is also edited with a lyrical grace that builds to moments of tension without feeling contrived. They're headed home for the Chinese New Year. We gradually center on Zhang Changhua and Chen Suqin, a married couple. There is a buzz of flesh and blood, a swelling commotion of such bestial strain that the sound of a steady downpour could well be part and parcel of this manmade scene.
The energy is ramifying from some heart of the matter, the heart which is this: the primal urge to answer the call of home.
Travelers appear from the vanishing point hauling roller suitcases, handbags, duffel bags, buckets, makeshift carts – and their weighty footsteps, their burdens, their haste. He would be better forging steel, manning coal-powered kilns, hammering iron to the soundtrack of a brassy orchestra.
He returns, slips the empty bucket under the bed, and draws a cloth curtain over the top half of the doorway. They can finally journey home to the countryside to see their children, 17-year-old Qin and younger brother Yang, who live with their grandmother. Years ago, they left their home in the Szechuan province to take low-paying jobs in a textile factory in Guangzhou, which is the huge industrial city on the mainland next to Hong Kong.


We see a scattering of umbrellas in the colors of neon, sky blue, army green, burgundy, yellow, turquoise, teal, light purple, mahogany, orange – and as the camera pans, they proliferate until our screen is filled with these varicolored mushrooms abloom in this soil of humanity. His silhouette, magnified by the physics of light, searches for its place on the thin mattress.
Here, in row after row, they work bent over sewing machines, assembling perhaps the jeans I'm wearing right now.
Higher up, hazier still, is the outline of a skyscraper, one side rounded off like a half-licked Popsicle. Cut to station platform: a man cranes his neck to make space for an oversized blue bag of woven plastic, possibly containing everything he owns in life.
The top third is simply a swath of gray-red, Teflon-soot, particulates of orange, the hue of cancer. Meanwhile, a young worker maneuvers an electrical steam iron to smooth out a dark piece of cloth.
Their dream is that by 15 years of this toil, they will pay for the children to finish school and live better lives.
For that dream, they have sacrificed the life of parenthood, and are like strangers at home to children who know them as voices on the telephone, seen on the annual visit.This is a reality Dickens could hardly have imagined. A bright light – the camera’s – reflects off the windows, blinking in synchrony with the clank of the train’s metal wheels.
The clanks grow distant, for we have remained on the platform while the locomotive slips into the night. But their lives are a grim contrast to the glittering Beijing of the Olympics, the towers of Shanghai, the affluent new business class.
And here is the part you may sense coming: Are their children grateful for what amounts to the sacrifice of two lifetimes?The filmmaker, Lixin Fan, follows this family for three years, in the city and in the village.
But China is a huge nation, so large that a generation may not be long enough to rise from poverty.
Their daughter, Zhang Qin, is in high school, and comes to regard her parents as distant strangers — and nags. Does it occur to her to suggest her parents move back home with her brother, while she helps support and repay them? You know the generations almost better than they know themselves, because the camera can be in two places and they are usually in one or the other.There is a quiet moment in a mall. But their generation doesn't want to work years leaning over a sewing machine and sleeping in a dorm.We read about the suicides in Apple's plants in China.
Seeing this film, you suspect there are many suicides among workers in factories whose brands are less famous than Apple. The rulers of China may someday regret that they distributed the works of Marx so generously.



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