If you missed Last Train Home during this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Arts & Lectures is giving you a second chance to hop on board. The 2009 documentary, helmed by Up the Yangtze director Lixin Fan, is a touching and at-times heartbreaking look at one of millions of migrant worker families in China. Starting with grand, sweeping shots of factory life, Fan narrows her lens on Suqin Chen and Changhua Zhan, a married couple struggling to get back to their rural homeland in time for the Chinese New Year. From there, the picture widens to expose the daily and lifelong struggles of Chinese migrant workers and the young and old they leave behind. Last Train Home plays Thursday, November 18, at 7:30 p.m. at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. For tickets and info, call or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu. And for more about the film, check out our list of endorsements below.
1. Family Ties: While Suqin and Changhua lie in the center of Last Train Home’s plot, it’s their two children, Qin and Yang, who ultimately capture our attention. Raised on the family’s farm by their grandmother, these two hold the key to their family’s escape. They also carry the burden of their parents’ hard work and are constantly pushed to study hard, if only to break the cycle of their current plight. Will they succumb to the pressures? Rise to the challenge? Or follow in the footsteps of their parents and peers?
2. Great Escapes: As in Yangtze, Fan’s eye finds beauty in even the most desperate of locations and paints a fantastically contrasting picture between rural China and the hustle and bustle of the city. When Suqin and Changhua attempt to return home, they’re met with a million-man blockade of chaos and confusion, a human maze created by throngs of factory workers trying to flee the city at once. The rolling hills, vibrant greenery, and silence that greet them when they return to the country help to accentuate the realities of what they’ve given up.
3. The Big Picture: Throughout Last Train, issues of consumerism, globalism, and greed run rampant. Americans are viewed as the gluttonous causers of the problem, and money is seen as the unattainable, only solution to the family’s troubles. At the end of the film’s two-year-long span, Suqin and Changhua face the reality of the 2008 global economic crisis and the tailspin it creates for Chinese manufacturers, ultimately leaving questions, rather than solutions, in its wake.