The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - RURANGI | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - RURANGI

rurangi review
A young man returns to his estranged hometown in rural New Zealand.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Maxwell Currie

Starring: Elz Carrard, Arlo Green, Āwhina-Rose Henare Ashby, Kirk Torrance

rurangi poster

Perhaps the most seismic shift in the left-wing socio-political landscape over the last 10 years has been the inexorable drift from social towards identity politics. Was it a Joss Whedon character (boooo, etc) who said something like, "Evil people will always win, because they share a singular purpose" - i.e., nothing matters except the shared outcome? It’s curious. Take the alt-right, with their specific series of targets which are pursued relentlessly, regardless of how far they understand them or truly believe the rhetoric. They are an unfortunate force to be reckoned with because the end game is all that matters; banding together to find something to blame for the discomfiting inadequacies and fears which plague them. And then peruse left-wing twitter in all its ignoble splintering: arguments about who should be cancelled, performative squabbles over the accidental misuse of a pronoun*, the exhibitory nature of the platform encouraging virtue signalling of the glibbest kind (the people I know who are trying to make a real-world difference are far too busy to tweet about it). Imagine if we properly pulled together! Meanwhile, the world burns.

rurangi review

Rūrangi (director, Max Currie; writers Cole Meyers and Oliver Page) opens with estranged Caz (Elz Carrad) returning to the titular New Zealand township. Caz has distanced himself from Rūrangi since transitioning 10 years ago, implicitly escaping the tight knit, industrial community and its small-town ideas: a sign for the remote municipal reads ‘In Milk We Trust’. Following the suicide of a friend, Caz is returning to patch things up with his dad, who is himself embroiled in a local land dispute, with the livelihood of the town relying upon his success with the case.

It seems that Caz is a chip off the old block, as in flashback as a trans activist we see that he too is socially aware. However, while both men publicly defend their principles, in private they are privy to rifts. Via sad exposition, we learn that Caz did not return for his mother’s funeral, heartbreakingly aware that the presence of a transgender man may well have shifted the intended focus of the funeral. The pointless divisions which people allow to occur between each other, and our shared spiritual destines, is what provides Rūrangi with its dramatic and thematic tensions.

rurangi review

In this vein, the film explores our responsibility to the community and to ourselves. Caz is chastised by his best friend for shooting off without so much as a by your leave, and the film goes on to show how his drama is impacting the wider troubles which the town faces. The motif of self-actualisation is supported by Anahera (Awhina-Rose Ashby), who is learning Māori to honour her heritage, and the theme is further compounded by the secondary issue of Caz’s ethnicity, as, although from the same background as Anahera, his light skin ostensibly allows him a status not commonly afforded to his minority demographic. However, any approbation which Caz faces from the town regarding his gender transition is fairly benign, despite his protests that staying there would have ended in his suicide. There is a running joke about people not recognising him, but the abiding reaction is one of hesitancy and incertitude, not phobia. It’s a fair point: after all, this is a working-class community who are far removed from urban progression. Take Caz’s poor old dad Gerald (Kirk Torrance) - the last time he saw Caz he regarded him as his daughter, and perhaps is mourning not only the loss of his wife but the child which he believed he had. The film extends important sympathy for Gerald, which is more useful than a blanket demonisation (too proud to speak openly, Caz finds letters which explicate his dad’s confliction - I’m welling up remembering it!).

Then there’s Caz’s ex-boyfriend Jem (Arlo Green), who is severely, but kindly, nonplussed to discover that his ex-girlfriend is actually a fella, one who he retains a lingering attraction for. Could this mean that Jem is gay, or that love is something which transcends a superficial sexual attraction? Rūrangi is at its most interesting when it explores the shifting understandings and prejudices of its characters, and most winning in its sensitivity towards them.

rurangi review

The film intriguingly began its existence as a mini-series, and it is interesting (in this age where we are meant to see everything as ‘content’, regardless of its medium) that at times it retains the beats and pacing of a television show. Perhaps this is the reason why a couple of plot threads are not fully developed in the way that the expansion of a mini-series would afford. Nonetheless, with its essential interest in the goodness of people, Rūrangi is an uplifting experience.

*To be clear, I don’t mean people who don’t purposefully recognise pronouns, I am referring to the well meaning and open hearted souls who don’t quite get it yet and are duly ostracised before they can be educated - a theme which Rūrangi touches upon.

Rūrangi is in UK/ROI cinemas and on VOD from February 25th.

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