It’s a documentary about one Chinese migrant family whose daughter decides to quit school and go work in a factory. Her parents wish for her to go back to school and study so she can have a better life than them. The relationship between the daughter and parents is strained. Mainly because the daughter and son are raised by the grandmother in a beautiful village in SiChuan province but the parents work in a clothing factory in GuangZhou (in GuangDong province) and can only visit their home village to see their kids once a year during the Spring Festival when hundreds of millions of Chinese are also trying to do the same.
What I first noticed about the documentary was that it starts out largely without dialogue allowing the viewer to hear the sounds of the current location. These extended sequences without dialogue occur though out the film which I felt really added a sense of immersion. There were perhaps only 3 instances I noticed where there was a soundtrack and they were appropriate. A couple of piano solos during pensive scenes riding on a bus or pop music when the daughter gets her hair done.
There isn’t a lot of dialogue in the film but when family members do speak you can easily understand and sympathize with their viewpoints. There is one scene where there’s an argument between father and daughter and some hitting which may be difficult for some to watch. For me I didn’t think it was too bad (the daughter’s pretty strong) ’cause let’s face it most Asian kids got beat by their parents at least once and usually with household items that hurt more than a simple open palm slap. I did feel guilty watching it because these were real raw emotions coming out of a family barely surviving. It was like eavesdropping on private matters.
There’s also some breathtaking cinematography, much of it from the village in SiChuan with vibrant green fields and orangy sunsets. There’s also the cityscape shots and the vast chains of snowy mountains as seen from the train. Although not necessarily visually appealing I appreciated the shots that the film crew were able to take of the insane crowds all pushing to get into trains packed beyond maximum capacity. I can only imagine how difficult it was be to have shot those scenes under such conditions.
Last Train Home is an excellent documentary. It really captures the typical struggles of the migrant worker. Its utter realism is intense, beautiful and at times unsettling. If you have any interest in the subject whatsoever then you must watch this film.