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A Compelling And Inspirational FIlm!
on 19 March 2005
Based on the novel by Witi Ihimaera, Whale Rider is an intelligent independent film by director Niki Caro. This is a poignant and powerful coming of age tale and also the story of a people who are struggling to maintain their identity and the old ways. There are strong mythical components to the film. The underwater shots of whales, and a young girl who seems to sense their presence and commune with them, are mystical and breathtaking. And the scenes of Maori dance and the narration of their mythology are extraordinary.
The film is set on the eastern coast of New Zealand, which is inhabited by an ancient people, the Whangara. The narrator is a wonderfully expressive young actress, Keisha Castle-Hughes. She gives a riveting performance as Paikea, (called Pai), a twelve year-old Maori girl with the blood of royalty in her veins and the heart of a warrior in her chest. The movie opens with Pai narrating a Whangara myth. Legend has it that the native people came to New Zealand following their leader, Paikea, (who Pai is named for), a boy who heroically rode on the back of a whale. Traditionally, tribal leadership has always gone to the direct descendants of that first leader and always to the first born male of the noble line. Tragedy occurs, however, when fraternal twins are born into that line, a boy and a girl. The girl lives, the boy does not, and the mother perishes along with her son as a result of a difficult birthing. The chain of leadership is broken with their demise. Pai's father, an artist, can not come to grips with the deaths of his wife and son and so he leaves New Zealand, and Pai, who is cared for by her paternal grandparents.
Years pass and Pai, at age twelve, has absorbed as much Maori knowledge as she is able from her grandfather Koro, (Rawiri Paratene), who is disapproving of his granddaughter's seemingly insatiable appetite to become a Maori leader. He has never quite forgiven her for being born a female, nor for living while her brother died. She exudes a true warrior's spirit and courage, which her grandfather refuses to see. Koro is desperately searching for a prophet - someone to lead his people "out of the darkness and who will make everything all right again." When Koro starts a school for young boys, all first-born, to teach the old traditions, Pai is forbidden to attend. She desperately wants her grandfather's love and has some pretty tough abandonment issues to deal with - her father, who left her when she was an infant and her beloved grandfather who is emotional unavailable to her. I will not spoil the plot by revealing more. This film is must-see.
The photography and landscapes, both underwater and above, are absolutely magnificent. The acting is marvelous and from the heart. Pai's and Koro's love-hate relationship, the tension between them, is nothing short of powerful. And I guarantee you will need a pack of Kleenex at the film's end.