No matter where you go in the world, rural areas are almost always more traditionally conservative than metropolitan ones. You’ve read the countless think pieces on behalf of the “forgotten America” that voted for Trump to the shock of the cities, and you’ve seen how the Conservative party has a stronghold on the British countryside, but this phenomenon isn’t just restricted to these two sharply divided countries. A country like New Zealand, internationally regarded as a peaceful island with progressive political beliefs, is one such example of a country with a sharply pronounced divide between the city and the small rural towns – and director Max Currie’s film Rurangi delicately explores whether LGBTQ people can ever feel safe returning to a place with such attitudes.
Photo © Courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures
Filmed as a five part web series but released internationally as a theatrical feature, Rurangi explores the human heart beneath this perceived divide in attitudes. In this case, it’s through the eyes of Caz Davis (Elz Carrad), a trans man who left the village a decade earlier, with nobody knowing that he has subsequently come out as trans. The trauma of the backwards attitudes of his family was enough to ensure he never bothered to contact after he left. Now a trans rights activist, Caz is returning to rebuild a reputation with a dad he hasn’t spoken to in ten years, and rekindle old friendships – including with an old boyfriend who has a sexual reckoning after discovering one of his exes has come out as a man.
It must be said that the film’s origins as a web miniseries are baffling, with the slow-burning nature of the character study feeling more effective at feature length than it would as an episodic drama. The film begins with Caz tearfully calling a father who no longer recognises the sound of his own child’s voice, but after that emotional sledgehammer, the film quickly segues into being a quieter, more subtle character piece – the kind of drama that doesn’t neatly reveal new revelations each episode, but rather uses its time to fully examine the interior lives of its characters. The film’s only misstep is the third act, which leads to a messy town hall meeting revolving around drama in the small dairy community, where Caz has to publicly affirm his identity in the face of small mindedness. This dramatic finale feels out of place in the context of the wider drama, appearing as a distracting contrivance in an otherwise well observed study of a trans child’s attempts to rebuild a relationship with their parents.
Photo © Courtesy of Peccadillo Pictures
BFI Flare had a diverse array of trans and non binary stories in the lineup this year, with the Hungarian documentary Colors of Tobi and US dramatic feature Cowboys both telling moving coming of age stories in the midst of hostile political environments where ruling governments have drastically stripped back the rights of non-cis people. In this context, Rurangi could have easily slipped through the cracks; the conservative views that are widespread in the town are very much in the periphery, with the film centring its focus on simmering family and relationship dramas. But to call Rurangi a film with lower stakes would be a disservice to how it articulates a trauma every trans person has to face, that is rarely brought to the screen. It will prove enlightening for cis viewers, but the film isn’t directly aimed at them – it’s an authentic account of a specific trans experience that is rarely dramatised in this way. It’s only in the film’s final stages, when it offers a dramatic conflict as a lazy shorthand for the simmering cultural tensions depicted throughout, that the film feels anything less than true.
Rurangi is a slow-burning character study that reveals itself to be insightful and charming in equal measure.
Written by Alistair Ryder
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