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New Zealand, 1990 (MIFF 1991)

Director: Gaylene Preston

Gaylene Preston, a past Festival guest with her last film Mr Wrong, is still going strong and we're pleased to welcome her back with the beguiling Ruby and Rata.

83 year-old Ruby (played by the trans-Tasman's favourite mature-age actress Yvonne Lawley) refuses to be shunted into the Sunset Villas. In hope of some rent-paying, live-in home help, she poses as a tenant in her own home, then arranges to let her downstairs apartment to a smart young businesswoman... which is to say that Rata moves in with eight-year-old Willie, hangs up her businessperson disguise and concentrates on her career of welfare fraud and rock'n'roll stardom. The old girl upstairs will make a great babysitter, she figures.

Ruby and Rata are soon locked into a battle of mutual subterfuge and deception that undergoes some fairly outlandish convolutions. Caught between them are Buckle, Ruby's nephew (also on the make), Ramesh who runs the corner dairy and Willie, who steals Ramesh's chocolate fish and almost steals this film from the grown-ups.

There's something almost elegiac about the portrait Ruby provides of a certain class and generation of the ever elegant, snobbish and lonely old woman looking for spiritual heirs. She's met her match in Rata whose flagrant scamming and frequent abandonment of her son to the "old witch" won't win her any good housekeeping citations. But, as their names suggest, Preston's two 'determined and manipulative women' are sisters at heart. It takes them as long to realise this as it takes for truth to dawn and a perfect match to occur in any romantic comedy. But the best things about Ruby and Rata are rooted in home truth. The seriousness that lurks within the cheerful comedy of false pretenses is surprisingly touching. (B.G.)

See also...


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