Rurangi: A gentle, affecting drama of irrefutable humanity

Film review: Elz Carrad shines in New Zealand feature on a trans man returning home

Elz Carrad and Arlo Green in Rurangi. Photograph: Autonomouse/The Yellow Affair
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Director: Max Currie
Cert: Club
Genre: Drama
Starring: Elz Carrad, Arlo Green, Kirk Torrance, Awhina-Rose Ashby, Aroha Rawson, Renee Sheridan
Running Time: 1 hr 37 mins

We end with a new version of Bronski Beat’s indestructible Smalltown Boy. Nearly four decades after that song’s release it continues to tell a story familiar to LGBT youth (and other minority communities). Indeed, it appears to still register way over on the other side of the world.

Max Currie's sincere, modestly staged feature – originally a web series – concerns Caz (Elz Carrad), a trans man returning to his home in rural New Zealand for the first time in a decade. Few of his friends or family have met him since he transitioned. His dad (Kirk Torrance), a Maori farmer who campaigns against chemical fertilisers, barely recognises the young man. His best pal Anahera (Awhina-Rose Ashby), also a Maori, is considerably more open to the returning wanderer. Caz's former boyfriend Jem (Arlo Green) initially does something close to a comic double-take, but soon accommodates himself to reality.

Currie is not in the business of grinding his protagonist’s face in misery. With one notable exception, the citizens of this dairy-producing locale are confused about Caz’s situation rather than openly hostile to the man himself. His dad snaps and snarls, but it doesn’t take too long for the ice to thaw. Green is adorable as a young man with a commendably open heart. Ashby is better still as the belligerent realist of her generation.

The director packs a great deal in a small space. There are interesting parallels between Caz's confirmation of gender identity and Anahera's embrace of her native language. We flashback to the hero's life in Auckland and learn about the activist community in that busy city. Irish viewers will again be reminded of the striking cultural similarities between this country and the nation that is arguably farther away from us than any other.


Rurangi does, alas, have an occasional tendency to break down into public-information speak. Caz has the odd speech in which he talks us through bullet points that would have been better developed through dramatic confrontation. But, for the most part, this is a gentle, effective drama that makes the most of its limited resources. Carrad is terrific in the lead role. The film’s arguments are irrefutable. Humanity wins in the end.

On limited release from February 25th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist