Review by: Graeme Kay | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by director Niki Caro;
Behind the scenes featurette (approx 27 mins); Tribal featurette
(approx 11 mins); Eight deleted scenes with commentary; Cast screen
tests; Trailers; Photo gallery.
A POWERFUL tale about the struggles of a young Maori girl trying
to overcome the prejudices of her grandfather and the strictures
The Maori inhabitants of a small coastal village, in New Zealand,
claim descent from Paikea, the Whale Rider - a legendary figure
who is believed to have led his people to New Zealand on the back
of a whale.
The Maori believe that every 1,000 years, a male heir, born to
the chief, takes on Paikea's mantle as the leader of the tribe.
But things turn sour when Pourangi, the son of the current chief,
Koro, refuses to accept that role. It is therefore left to his
first-born son to become the leader.
Unfortunately, Pourangi's son dies in childbirth, along with
his mother, leaving his twin sister, Pai, as Pourangi's only child.
Koro, believing that a girl cannot become the Whale Rider, rejects
Pai and comes to believe that the decline in the fortunes of his
village and its people can be traced directly to her birth.
The story follows Pai's attempts to convince her stern, custom-bound
grandfather, whom she loves dearly, despite his hostility towards
her, that she can be a leader to her people.
Using the book, The Whale Rider, by Witi Ihimaera, as
her template, director, Niki Caro, crafts a warm, touching, achingly
Exquisitely shot to capture the fierce beauty of the east coast
of New Zealand, and the richness of Maori culture, Whale Rider
presents a convincing portrait of a proud people striving to hang
on to their beliefs while dealing with the social problems - lack
of work, drug and alcohol abuse, loss of identity - that are common
to many 21st Century communities.
Imbued with tenderness and earthy humour, the film never crosses
the line between sensitivity and mawkish sentimentality, and the
action sequences, particularly with the whales, are deftly staged.
Kiesha Castle-Hughes, making an astounding acting debut, is totally
credible in the lead role.
Displaying a range of technique and emotion that belies her 11-years
and her lack of experience, she charms the audience into identifying
with her plight, while simultaneously presenting a portrait of
a gutsy young girl, who can more than hold her own with the warrior-boys
who are supposed to be her superiors.
Also impressive are Cliff Curtis, as Pai's exiled father, Riwiri
Paratene, as the tough, uncompromising Koro, Vicky Haughton, as
Pai's grandmother, and the supporting cast, made up entirely of
the villagers of Whangara, where the film was shot.
Expect to see this movie, the first to be financed by the New
Zealand Film Production Fund, fighting it out in the Best Foreign
Film category at next year's Oscars.