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:: Whale Rider

Based on the novel written by acclaimed New Zealand writer Witi Ihimaera and written and directed by Niki Caro, Whale Rider is a powerful and poignant film that explores the themes of family and culture in a small coastal tribal village in New Zealand.

We are introduced to a contemporary Maori community where the Chief Koro’s eldest son Porourangi’s twin children are about to be born. This is an important occasion as it signals the beginning of the next heir in line to lead the tribal community after Chief Koro. This tradition had been passed down from many generations and is viewed upon as the highest honour as it dates back to the ancestors from long ago. However after giving birth Porourangi’s wife and first-born male dies leaving the father with only a daughter to succeed the line. Porourangi unable to face Koro’s disappointment leaves his baby daughter Pai to be raised by his parents.

After an absence of 12 years, he returns to the village. His family finds that he has left the life of the tribe and lives a new life in Germany as a renowned artist with a new child and girlfriend in his life. Koro enforces that his place is with the tribe as it is Porourangi’s obligation to be the next Chief in line after having failed to produce a son and being left with nothing but a useless girl, Pai. Overhearing this, Pai decides she wants to leave her beloved grandparents and go to Germany with her father, however some powerful force within her convinces her to stay against everyone’s will, claiming that Koro needs her.
Koro goes on a mission to train all the 12 year old boys from the village hoping that one of them will show themselves to be the true successor of his title. However in his quest it becomes apparent that it is Pai, the true successor of the tribe. Above all his trainees, she learns and practices the teachings from the elders and learns the way of her culture and fighting techniques. Koro dismisses this and banishes her from the house to live with her uncle. It is only when a miracle occurs that Koro realises he is wrong.

This story is skilfully written and shot with a talented cast, especially that of Keisha Castle-Hughes as Pai, a first time actress with an amazing ability to convey a range and depth of emotions during her battle against a patriarchy that is intent on ignoring her and keeping her down. Her acting abilities are evident in the school concert scene where she dedicates her award to her absent grandfather and apologises for not being the boy he wanted her to be. Pais’ confrontations with the boys that Koro trains are also just as beautifully acted showing a natural radiance and talent on her part. She carries the film persuasively and does a tremendous job, as a lesser actress could’ve made for a disastrous to the film. The rest of the cast are equally as good, although all other performances rely so strongly on Keisha that it is a pleasure to watch the exchanges between them, especially with Rawiri Paratene as Koro and Cliff Curtis as Porourangi.

The cinematography is breathtaking, especially all the vast landscape scenery of this picturesque coastal town of Whangara. A charming film that deserves all the acclaim that it receives, with big things ahead for its lead actress.

Screening at Cinema Nova, Greater Union Cinemas, Classic Cinemas, Westgarth Cinemas, Cinema Europa, Village Crown, Dendy Brighton and Rivoli