Whale Rider

Whale Rider


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

In the topsy-turvy world of political correctness, ethnic traditions have become sacrosanct. It seems that a couple of hundred years after native communities have been decimated by greedy and ruthless invaders, the offspring of those invaders bend over backwards to sympathise with the wreckage of tribal nations.

Whale Rider fits into this new trend towards green thoughts and ancient ways. It might have been a Native American story, but it's about Maoris, modern Maoris, the ones who live in low rent housing in New Zealand and tend to be overweight.

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Looking beyond the legend of the whale and the proud heritage of chiefs, passing from one generation to the next, is a darker story, concerning the rejection by a grandfather of his granddaughter. Forget the ancestral gobbledegook, the old man is foul to the girl and no one seems to mind. Eventually, they become close, mainly because she refuses to be broken by him.

The film is deeply manipulative, touching the sentimental points on the body of a tale that rides high on traditional values of a culture that is barely alive. When the girl Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) was born, her mother and twin brother died. Her father abandoned the family and became a sculptor in Germany. Pai was brought up by her grandparents.

An attractive and energetic tomboy, she learns to live with her grandfather, saying, "Take her. She's no use to me." He says other, equally hurtful things, which only makes her want to impress him more. The old man is selfish, belligerent and self-pitying, while Pai is thoughtful, optimistic and brave.

The mood of the film is a mixture of rigidity, conformity and hope, the latter emanating solely from Pai. With the exception of Castle-Hughes, who has a natural flair, the acting is stiff. The pace feels slow and the dramatic finale appears less than convincing, although, doubtless, the hankies will be out.

"I come from a long line of chiefs, " Pai says. "I broke the line from the ancient ones."

Her crime is her gender.

Reviewed on: 10 Jul 2003
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Granddaughter of Maori chief in modern New Zealand suffers rejection for her gender.
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Read more Whale Rider reviews:

Jennie Kermode ****

Director: Niki Caro

Writer: Niki Caro, based on the novel by Witi Ihimaera

Starring: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis, Rawinia Clarke, Tammy Davis, Grant Roa

Year: 2002

Runtime: 105 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: New Zealand/Germany


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