Thursday, February 16, 2006

Small Station

Just saw the movie "Small Station" 小站 by director Lin Chien-ping today. It picked up an award for Best Short Film at Venice last year.

It was short, only half an hour long or so, but well written and filmed. Very simple story about a mother and her son watching express trains fly by at a small station (Santiaolin) in the countryside. The son has a slight mental disability, but is (like me) an enthused trainspotter. Only at a small station can you see express trains go by without stopping, and that gives the son a sense of thrill.

The isolation and emptiness of the location, in contrast to the few but warm dialogue between mother and son reveal how pure and human the characters are. Gestures like holding hands while walking, or sitting together and eating lunch are so insignificant but contain such deep emotions and expose the deep bond that exists between mother and son. Now and then, the ever changing clouds and misty landscape cuts through to show the passage of time. And now and then, shots of green towering mountain ranges to add emphasis to the naturalness of it all.

At the station they for most of the time are the only people there. There is a station master, who sits behind old equipments that have to be driven by hand, as well as flashy computer monitors, but he is in the beginning suspicious and even annoyed at the presence of the duo. Perhaps the station master has been alone for so long, the only dialogue being over a communicator to fly-by and the occassional slow trains, and with the few villagers whose name he knows by heart, that he feels disturbed at the sight of a foreign human presence. Certainly, when the son steps so close to the edge of the platform as an express hurtles by gives the stationmaster more reason to become angry. He scolds the mother for the son's dangerous behaviour, but then learns that the duo have no other intentions besides watching the trains go by-- something that he himself does everyday, something that he himself probably has forgotten the thrill of each passing train.

As the express , a long stretch of cold steel with tightly sealed windows and doors, cold LED displays and a blinding headlight , hurtles by the son unexpectedly, and perhaps naively, shouts to the passing train. His hail is barely audible in the background noise of clanking wheels and swishing wind, and perhaps noone in the cold steel carriage hears or notices him, but he continues his call. As the train pulls further away, the son shouts "Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye". His voice reverberates in the mountains, that even playing children, a limping man and the stationmaster himself stop to listen.

Then it is time to head home. The train they board, together with another middle aged woman carrying an old carrier bag made out of stitched green and red fibre that the grandparent generation used, is a slow train. No luxuries and modernities of the air-con, just old green seats sat with passengers engaged in their own mundane activities, open windows and rotating ceiling fans.

As the train pulls away, the station master waves his wand and stands alone again on the platform. A close up short of his face reveals emotions, and perhaps wallowing tears, that are in stark contrast to his hard and sternness before.

Once in Taipei, they are in a different place, one defined by modernity, hardness, crowdedness-- place in progress and motion. They leave behind them that peace and naturalness the moment they board the train, and become lost in the crowd, under the umbrella as simply another couple walking in the rain. But the audience knows better.

The movie reveals the story of forgotten people in a time when the spiritual and material are governed by rapid change and movement, and in a time when human contact and communication is minimal and through a medium. The mother and son are present as if to remind the audience that in the midst of this all, there are those who, perhaps neglected and seen as deviants, are able to live life to the moment, and enjoy simple things and the company of one another. It inspires, perhaps reminds, others like the station master, that those characteristics of seeing and treasuring what is around you should be explored and reflected on.

And the audience should know better too.

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