Whale Rider

Whale Rider
Released: May 8 2003
Cast: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis.
Director: Niki Caro
Genre: Drama
Rated: PG
Running Time: 105 Minutes
People's Choice - Toronto International Film Festival 2002
Audience Award - Sundance Film Festival 2003
Audience Award - Rotterdam International Film Festival 2003

One Young Girl Dared To Confront The Past, Change The Present And Determine The Future.

Synopsis: In a small New Zealand coastal village, Maori claim descent from Paikea, the Whale Rider. In every generation for more than 1000 years, a male heir born to the Chief succeeds to the title. The time is now. The Chief's eldest son, Porourangi, fathers twins - a boy and a girl. But the boy and his mother die in childbirth. The surviving girl is named Pai. Grief-stricken, her father leaves her to be raised by her grandparents. Koro, her grandfather who is the Chief, refuses to acknowledge Pai as the inheritor of the tradition and claims she is of no use to him. But her grandmother, Flowers, sees more than a broken line, she sees a child in desperate need of love.

And Koro learns to love the child. When Pai's father, Porourangi, now a feted international artist, returns home after twelve years, Koro hopes everything is resolved and Porourangi will to accept destiny and become his successor.

But Porourangi has no intention of becoming Chief. He has moved away from his people both physically and emotionally. After a bitter argument with Koro he leaves, suggesting to Pai that she come with him. She starts the journey but quickly returns, claiming her grandfather needs her.

Koro is blinded by prejudice and even Flowers cannot convince him that Pai is the natural heir. The old Chief is convinced that the tribe's misfortunes began at Pai's birth and calls for his people to bring their 12-year-old boys to him for training. He is certain that through a gruelling process of teaching the ancient chants, tribal lore and warrior techniques, the future leader of their tribe will be revealed to him.

Meanwhile, deep within the ocean, a massive herd of whales is responding, drawn towards Pai and their twin destinies. When the whales become stranded on the beach, Koro is sure this signals an apocalyptic end to his tribe. Until one person prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the people. The Whale Rider.

My Verdict: This movie was such a moving experience. It was confronting yet calm and at times so peaceful. Keisha Castle-Hughes was absolutely brilliant as Pai. She was chosen to play the role from 10 000 hopefuls and was perfect. The relationship between Pai and her grandfather was filled with emotion as Pai continued to strive to please him even when he continually rejected her. Keisha had many in tears in the audience at the preview I attended with her performance. The rest of the cast were also very believable, although they may not be known outside their native New Zealand but this is to their advantage as there are no type-cast conflicts.

This is a story about language and culture, and about love and rejection but ultimately a story of triumph. The New Zealand scenery was captured beautifully and enhanced the history of the village - it was actually shot in the same village where the story took place. The beached whale scenes are brilliant at tugging the heartstrings.

This is surely one of the best films released to date in 2003, and it copes so well without Hollywood hype and special effects. It really is a simple story told brilliantly on film.

Reviewed by Christina Bruce

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