Lixin Fan's vérité-style documentary was shot over a couple of years, beginning in 2006, and depicts how a new global economy is in deep conflict with China's traditional family and social structures. He follows one family, who live a fractured existence. For the past 16 years, the parents have made garments in the factory city of Guangzhou, while sending money back to their two children, still on the family farm more than 1,300 miles away. The bargain is simple: The parents endure awful jobs and isolation so that their children might finish school and live better lives.
It's a deal that makes some economic sense, but not social. The parents can return home only for a day or so, at Chinese New Year. Thus, the kids are emotionally distant strangers, and the teen-age daughter is angry and ready to move to the city herself. The family speaks of the anguish of having to juggle obligations to work, children and a perceived better future. Other scenes, that find the participants without words, are just as heartbreaking. Using handheld cameras, Lixin Fan provides an intimate portrait, from the claustrophobic sweaty interiors of an over-packed train to the gentle river that winds through the countryside, a gorgeous vista that for these workers is now a once-a-year glimpse of home they're too exhausted to admire. In Mandarin, with subtitles. Starts Fri., Nov. 26. Harris