Remembering the impact that teachers have on their students’ lives; inspiring, motivating, and empowering them to achieve their goals and dreams is at the heart of “The Last Wagon,” the Mexican film directed by Ernesto Contreras. Based on the novel by Spanish writer Ángeles Doñate, this captivating story takes us into the life of teacher Georgina and her students in a primary school adapted inside a train wagon.
A Nomadic Life and the Quest for Belonging
The film follows the journey of Ikal, a boy who travels throughout Mexico due to his father’s work in repairing and constructing railways. However, this nomadic life affects his education and brings about a constant feeling of rootlessness.
But fortunately, everything changes when Ikal ends up at the school of the unyielding teacher, Georgina, during one last stop. This place also allows him to bond with his new friends (Chico, Valeria, and Tuerto), and he finally feels a sense of belonging.
From Mobile Classrooms to Fixed Spaces
However, problems arise when Hugo Valenzuela, an inspector from the SEP, arrives in town and threatens to close the Malinalli Tepenepatl Public School (the school Ikal attends) as part of his thankless task of closing rural schools.
To understand the context of Contreras’ film, we need to go back to the time of great promise for railway networks in Mexico during the governments of Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada and Porfirio Díaz, who installed over 20,000 kilometers of railway tracks and established the National Railways of Mexico. The mobile wagon schools emerged as a result of the families of railway workers who traveled in mobile homes across the country.
“The Last Wagon” reflects how the abandoned wagons were repurposed after the decline of the railway system. The mobile classrooms turned into fixed spaces, installed within uninhabited trains. This situation continues to this day in many disadvantaged areas of the country.
An Insight into the Lives of Rural Teachers
Likewise, the film portrays the arduous profession of being a teacher in rural and marginalized areas of the country, along with the political, social, and economic adversities that hinder proper educational development. Between the lines, the story highlights the deficiencies and some of the problems within the educational system in our nation, not forgetting the lack of support for the less fortunate.
However, the film also explores the humanity possessed by many teachers and the impact of their teachings, which transcend the classroom and positively affect the lives of their students. “The Last Wagon” bears resemblance to films like “The Dead Doors Society” by addressing the figure of the teacher as a guide who leads their students towards achieving their goals despite the difficulties that life presents.
Director Contreras states that the making of the film was a long journey of exploration and learning:
“It became an opportunity to approach a different genre with young, very young actors who filled the film with energy, light, and passion. It was a pleasure to build each of the characters and delve into the world of teaching under very precarious conditions, along with the fascinating railway universe of our country,” expressed the director.
An Outstanding Cast and a Positive Message
Nominated for an Oscar, Adriana Barraza (Babel) stands out in the role of teacher Georgina. The cast is complemented by Memo Villegas (Noche de fuego), Teté Espinoza (Cosas imposibles), Jero Medina (Somos), Blanca Guerra (Santa Sangre), Fátima Molina (Sueño en otro idioma), Gabriela Cartol (La camarista), Nova Coronel (Solteras), Adrián Vázquez (Ruido), and Leonardo Alonso (Nuevo orden).
Despite the challenging context, the film conveys a positive message and shows how children can overcome life’s obstacles. Additionally, it serves as a reminder to recognize the incredible work that teachers do in Mexico day in and day out, often unnoticed, without fully understanding their importance in shaping and educating future generations of our society.
“The Last Wagon” is now available on the streaming platform Netflix. Don’t miss it!
El último vagón
Mexico | 2023 | 95 mins
Director: Ernesto Contreras
“The Last Wagon” is an ode to teachers who are committed and dedicated, willing to sacrifice for education and leave a lasting impact on their students. It follows the story of Don Ernesto and his students at the Malinalli Teneplat wagon school, where their lives are transformed during the school year.