Monday, May 10, 2010

Jason goes to SFIFF--Day 12

SFIFF is over, but I still have 7 movies left to write up. So let's go, starting a week ago.

First up last Monday, LAST TRAIN HOME. Director Lixin Fan assisted in last year's excellent UP THE YANGTZE, and is back with another exploration of an underrepresented population in China. Over 130 million Chinese people come from the countryside but work in factories in cities, coming home on for 1-2 weeks during the New Year celebration. All these people jamming into the trains represent the largest seasonal migration of human beings anywhere on earth. And while shots of crowded train stations and people running to climb on board are incredible, the strength of the movie is in how Fan keeps the story focused on a single family. The Zhangs left the poverty of their village for factory work 16 years ago, but left behind an infant daughter. That daughter, Qin, was raised by her Grandma and Grandpa (who has passed away) has grown to be pretty angry at her absentee parents, and the yearly reunion gets increasingly tense, devolving at one point to a full-blown fight. She drops out of school, moves to the city and works in a bar, and doesn't let them know where she's living. Meanwhile the younger son is still doing well at school, and shows every indication that he will stick with it. There are many angles that make this story endlessly fascinating, not the least of which is the global economy, and how events on the other side of the world affect demand for Chinese made goods, and directly affect their livelihood (interesting side note, during the recent economic collapse, Mrs. Zhang couldn't get factory work and stayed home for one year. During that year their son was top of his class). Very well done, and again especially for balancing the scope of the phenomenon with the story of one family.

Next was a fascinating experimental history lesson, 14-18: THE NOISE AND THE FURY. The title refers to 1914-1918, and the noise and fury of WWI. Narrated by an unseen French man who joined up at the start of the war, it uses oddly colorized newsreel footage (Ted Turner would be proud) and clips from other war films to tell the comprehensive one-man's-story of WWI. Going from the beginning when "everyone was behind the war" and thousands were executed for any hint of cowardice or un-patriotism, through the fabled Christmas day soccer game in no-man's land, through the mutinies of 1917 (where very few mutineers were actually executed). It's a powerful look at the miseries and the psychology of war, and how so many continued to support a war slaughter of attrition. How propaganda highlighted the "barbaric hun", and how it became known as "The War to End All Wars" later as a justification and morale-booster for continuing. Although it's quite an achievement, and I don't think there's been an exploration of any war quite like this, I'm afraid that all the fancy tricks detract from the message. This feels more like a movie that has more to say about cinema itself than about war.

So that was last Monday. 3 days/5 films to go.

Total Running Time: 187 minutes
My Total Minutes: 184,316
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