Rurangi

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Rurangi
"The production values are modest, in accordance with the budget, but the actors acquit themselves well." | Photo: Courtesy of Newfest

Caz (Elz Carrad) has spent a long time in the city, away from his family, away from his roots. He didn't go back even when his mother died. He wanted the funeral to be about her. How could it be if he scandalised everyone there by turning up and looking like a stranger when they all expected to see a girl? But he misses his dad - and so, ten years after he originally left, he returns in the hope of reconciliation.

There's a lot going on in Max Currie's film, which started life as a web series. As well as coming out to his dad (Kirk Torrance), who doesn't even recognise him at first, he has to go through the process with best friend Anahera (Awahina Rose Ashby), who is still angry at him for leaving, and with ex-boyfriend Jem (Arlo Green), who has always identified as straight. His transition is a minor part of the problem. His father is still dealing with bereavement and feels betrayed by Caz's absence at such a difficult time. He's also under a lot of stress because he's in the middle of a land rights dispute, with a lot of local people depending on him. Anahera, meanwhile, is trying to reclaim her Maori identity by learning the language she never acquired as a child, and dealing with hostility from a community member who doesn't think she's Maori enough. Jem has to deal with the fact that he still has feelings for Caz, and with the realisation that his masculinity was always part of what he found attractive.

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In and among all these plot strands, masculinity is the theme that stands out, expressed in different ways by different characters but a source of particular tension between Caz and his father. Commonplace father/son conflicts are amplified as Caz tries to compensate for possible assumptions that he's inadequately male (though he encounters little in the way of overt transphobia), and both of them struggle to articulate their emotions, struggling to connect precisely because of the ways in which they're similar. There's the extra pressure of coming from a minority racial group, especially as Caz is white-passing, which adds to the sense of him being an outsider and too privileged now to understand the way his father lives. He does understand and respect his father's activism, however, and part of his right of passage into accepted adult masculinity depends on him finding the confidence to engage with it.

Though some of the other plot strands feel underdeveloped, perhaps because of the change of format, there's a lot of good work on display here. The production values are modest, in accordance with the budget, but the actors acquit themselves well. It's nice to see a story about a trans character who is neither doomed nor striving to access magical surgery after which all known problems will vanish. Caz's story is far more mundane, but that doesn't make him less interesting. This is a small town drama in which the focus is on community and different ways of trying to find acceptance. It's a story in which the greatest sin is turning one's back on that community - yet for Caz, there may still be a chance of forgiveness.

Reviewed on: 21 Nov 2020
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Rurangi packshot
Burnt-out trans activist Caz returns to the rural dairy community he fled before transition, to reconnect with his father. As father and son reconcile, Caz finds new purpose, spearheading the town's environmental fight against 'Big Dairy'.

Director: Max Currie

Writer: Cole Meyers, Oliver Page

Starring: Elz Carrad, Arlo Green, Awahina Rose Ashby, Kirk Torrance, Aroha Rawson

Year: 2020

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: New Zealand

Festivals:

Newfest 2020

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