Every New Year, millions of migrant workers in China overload the country's transportation systems in effort to make it home to celebrate with their relatives. It is the largest annual human migration on the planet. Documentarian Lixin Fan hones in on married couple Chen and Zhang, as they struggle to make the thousand kilometer journey back to their children, Qin and Yang. On arrival, this rare family reunion becomes fraught, as the teenaged Qin chafes against her family's desire for her to get an education. Beyond just adolescent rebellion, it's evident the seeds of her defiance may lie in a long-felt sense of abandonment. And then, all too soon, the parents must leave their kids once more.
First-time filmmaker Fan stunningly captures the changes wreaking havoc on a massive, rapidly modernizing society through the microcosm of one poor family from the laboring classes. Almost literally a fly-on-the-wall portrait, his camera captures the Zhangs at moments so painfully intimate, you'll marvel at the director's closeness to his subjects. Watching the parents in transit is particularly revelatory; this agonizing ordeal, akin to the herding of cattle, is an affront to human dignity. This is one sobering and unforgettable look at contemporary life in China few Westerners would otherwise see. A must.