BFI Flare Festival 2021: Rūrangi

The fourth film on my BFI Flare watch list is Rūrangi, a project set in the titular village which is a politically divided area in New Zealand. Initially ordered as a five episode web series, this is being presented as a full feature film at the festival. Following Caz (Elz Carrad), a transgender man who returns to Rūrangi to see his father who doesn’t know that he has transitioned. Directed by Max Currie with a screenplay written by Cole Meyers and Oliver Page, we follow Caz’s journey post transition and the two lives he leads and seeing the contrast between his life in Auckland as a prominent trans rights activist and the life he left in Rūrangi. When he arrives to.speak to his father, he also comes face to face with Jem (Arlo Green), his ex-boyfriend before his transition. As well as Caz, we also follow the story of his childhood friend, Anahera (Awahina Rose Ashby), a young woman who is trying to connect with her Maori roots by learning the language.

What is so captivating about Rūrangi is how these different topics spanning from social to cultural are intertwined and see how they have impacted Caz and his perspective on the world. Coming from a small town that isn’t as progressive as the cities and is reliant on a sole industry brings its pressures on the expectations and standards he was held up to growing up. Being able to lead the life he wants in Auckland comes to a head as a tragedy forces him to return home and confront that past.

Elz Carrad’s performance as Caz is a breakthrough turn and provides that focus point throughout the film. Even when exploring a range of different characters, we see how Caz has affected them and vice versa. Carrad is perfectly cast and really brings that inner conflict to the surface as he has to confront his dad for the first time in ten years. He is shy and reluctant to speak out to his father and the village council intially despite being unafraid to express his voice in Auckland, risking his life to do so. The film revolves around Caz’s journey to self acceptance and unwillingness to be batted down by those who disagree with trans rights and Carrad achieves this perfectly.

In support, Awahina Rose Ashby is brilliant as Anahera, a woman of Maori descent who is rediscovering her roots through the language. Refusing to conform to what the town expects from her, she openly dates women and doesn’t care about what people think. Her progressive look to the future and attitude is then combined with her longing to connect with her past. As she recites a Maori mantra in the morning, she is instantly becoming more connected to the world around her and wanting to interact with the community that has always disapproved of her actions. Ashby’s performance is fearless and unapologetic as she has such a strong and confident presence which works great against Carrad’s more subtle and quieter performance. The scenes between the two are highly emotional and sum up the experience of being an “outsider” in a small conservative town.

Overall, Rūrangi is a fantastic series/film that will be equally enjoyable to watch either in full or episodes. Seeing the perspective of the New Zealand LGBT+ community through the eyes of those who can relate makes the experience feel more authentic. The characters have been fleshed out in a way that we see their positive and negative traits and we understand from their backstories why they act this way. The direction in particular is stunning and the non linear structure of the film keeps the plot unpredictable whilst also fleshing out the backstory in a way that doesn’t feel like exposition or thrown in.

Rūrangi is showing at this year’s BFI Flare Festival.

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