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||IMDB Rating: 7.0/10 from N/A votes
||Release: 21 Aug 2015 /
||Director: J.P. Sniadecki,
||Synopsis: Filmed over three years on what will soon be the world's largest railway network, 'The Iron Ministry' traces the vast interiors of a country on the move: flesh and metal, clangs and squeals, light and dark, language and gesture.
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I saw this at the Rotterdam film festival 2015 (IFFR). Though I usually
avoid documentaries, this one looked different when reading the
festival website. And indeed it was different! Unbelievable how this
1-man film crew succeeded in producing a very interesting insight in
not only the Chinese railways but also in the people living there. It
is a country with people we know not so much about. What is so special
about this film is that it not only shows various types of trains and
passengers, but also witness conversations with passengers about
politics and religion. I'm not sure it is deliberate by design, but we
see a trend from overcrowded and messy local trains, gradually
upgrading towards the ultra modern high-speed trains that China has in
The local trains seem overcrowded with people and their luggage, many
people standing or sitting on the ground. These trains look rather old,
seemingly overdue for decommissioning. We see meat being dissected in
the open, we see large amounts of fruits and vegetables being boarded,
apparently people heading for the market to sell their wares. We see
everyone finding their place somewhere. All of them are very
cooperative and move aside when the need arises, without the protests,
comments and short-fused tempers usual in the country where I live.
Later on, we see trains that are less retarded, carrying people
obviously prepared for a long journey, sleeping in uncomfortable
positions, and displaying a variety of food and drinks for underway.
Also sleeper coaches are included, enforcing the idea that these are
long distance trains. In the end we move on to the other end of the
train spectrum. We see the insides of very modern trains, apparently
high speed ones (a display above the compartment door shows 306 km/h),
much less crowded and much quieter.
This film offers much more than showcasing the variety of trains in use
within China. A very nice feature of this film is that passengers and
personnel are followed and interviewed along the ride. The tone of the
interviews is very open, mostly optimistic, showing trust in the
nation's policy and stating that China is one nation and should stay
one nation. Also some Muslims are interviewed, bringing the
conversation to mosques (or lack thereof) and freedom of religion, the
latter seems a non-issue and is discussed in a much more relaxed way
than I had assumed beforehand. In other interviews we observe some
critical remarks, however, about house prices and the impossibility to
rent an apartment, the latter being occupied by people with
"connections". The house prices are indirectly responsible, so it
seems, for the average late age to get married, combined with dominant
role of mothers in law when matrimony is concerned. All in all, a very
informative insight in how Chinese people live and think.
All in all, even when trains as transport vehicles cannot interest you,
this still is a "must see" documentary. It is very interesting to
watch, and provides for an inside view in a country and people of which
we really don't know very much. The tone is not critical, however, and
mostly satisfied with the current state of the nation and its politics.
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