This enthralling local documentary captures nearly a year in the life of a rugby-mad small town.

It's remarkable that rugby, deep-rooted though it is in our national culture, has never attracted the sustained attention of a documentary film-maker until now.

Pryor and Smith spent a year living in the town of Reporoa, midway between Rotorua and Taupo, to make this modest, hauntingly beautiful and often very funny film about a year in the life of a rural rugby club.

Those who detest the oval-ball game should take note that it's not really a film about rugby. There's as much milking, calving, yarning and drinking in this film as there is rugby. A sport-hater of my close acquaintance was enthralled by it because it has so much to say about so much.

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Not all of it is entirely celebratory: the values of hard work and self-reliance, the essence of mateship, and the small-town sense of community all get a trot, but so do gender stereotypes (the only female character who appears more than once is the club-bus driver, seen only from behind and never saying a word) and some pretty toxic notions of Kiwi masculinity.

A young Englishman, barely out of his teens (who would have picked he'd be called "Pom"?) is subjected to treatment that may make you wince, but in their determination to hold the characters' world up to the light, Pryor and Smith never turn away.

Importantly, the film-makers (whose debut venture together was the portrait of Hiruharama/Jerusalem called How Far Is Heaven take no sides. That may offend the more ideologically driven but this is a film devoid of ideology.

That's not to say it has no point of view, but it's never more than the cinematic equivalent of a raised eyebrow. Crucially, Pryor and Smith have a real affection for their characters and by the end of their film, we do too.

We get to know them slowly - this is not a film that deals in captions ("John, 37, 123 dairy cows, prop forward") to introduce its characters - but stars emerge, notably Kelvin, the chubby, ruddy solo father of 7-year-old twins who tackles the challenges of domestic life with a charming blend of bemusement and good humour.

As the season wears on and Reporoa's fortunes improve and there is the potential for a cliche-ridden tale of an underdog side fighting back from the blink of oblivion. But the film makes the team's progress part of a bigger, more resonant narrative about a community and even a way of life.

If it mythologises its subject, it does so in the best possible way - visually. Pryor's crisp yet rich black and white photography reawakens the eye to the beauty of the tamed landscape, of silver hillsides or late-afternoon pastures under sprinkler spray.

The film starts at the tail end of a drought and the dust hangs menacingly in the valley; later sequences take place under floodlights limned with winter fog. The effect, abetted by David Long's understated score for strings, is magical.

See this film. Soon. And on the big screen.

Directors: Christopher Pryor, Miriam Smith
Running time: 90 mins
Rating: M (offensive language, sexual references, nudity, content that may offend)

Verdict: Touching, funny and hauntingly beautiful.

- TimeOut