Ten years ago Caz left the small dairy town he grew up in. Subsequently he has transitioned and is now a trans activist. Nobody in the town recognises Caz now, including his former friends and even family. His goal in town is to reconnect with his father, who hasn’t heard from him in over a decade. If the two men are able to move past the pain and ignorance that drove them apart, they will have to learn to communicate with each other. This proves especially difficult when the real reason behind Caz’s visit come to light.
The film has a fantastic eye for the details and feel of the small town. The modern institutions like corner shops feel almost improvised, like they had to . The homes and meeting spaces on the other hand have a rigidity and richness that enforces the conservative and slow-changing values at the heart of the community. There’s also an ongoing and painful debate being waged in the background regarding the rights of indigenous peoples. Caz’s friend Anahera (Awhina-Rose Ashby) is second generation, doesn’t speak her people’s language and is referred to by hostile members of the community as a “plastic Maori”. The theme of societal expectation vs actual identity is consistent throughout.
Caz’s father is trying to enact an important environmental improvement for the farmers there, safeguarding their health to the detriment of their meagre profits. Through this process we see how firmly this community resists change and how challenging it will be for Caz to be accepted for who he is. It’s hard to distinguish for the characters to distinguish their feelings of betrayal and hurt from their prejudices. In any case, the bleak reality of these farmers has a direct impact on their ability to understand the difficulties facing a transgender person. Caz never wants to introduce himself with his dead name, and so refers to himself as “Gerald’s Kid”. The difficulty of reconnecting these people is at every level.
There’s a powerful tension to the film that is completely absorbing. The excellent electronic score and gritty handheld camera work adds considerable bite to the narrative that deftly moves from tender moments of intimacy and comfort to harsh and lonely scenes of his time in the town. Though originally split in to segments and released as a web series, there is something suitably cinematic about the work. The divided narrative that moves from Caz’s activist activities in the city to his desperate attempts at connection in Rurangi. There are stylistic flourishes and beguiling mysteries that make for a gripping 90 minutes.
One of the most striking episodes sees Caz connect with an ex-boyfriend with whom he is surprisingly able to communicate very honestly about their experiences and history before personal hang-ups get in the way. It’s messy and complicated but it’s a real moment of connection before anguish comes sweeping back in. It’s the beginning of a real dialogue between the two. The film is fabulous at portraying the work required to overcome awkwardness and pain.
Rurangi is a very effecting story that explores the powerful and difficult emotions on either end of a generational and attitudinal schism, through which communication is almost hard but possible. It’s a story told with ambitious scope and real emotion. It’s episodic but never feels disjointed. Each strand is part of a whole, reminiscent of a novel. But this is undeniably cinematic and belongs on the big screen where all grand stories live.