Written and directed by Niki Caro, Whale Rider tells the story of Pia (Keisha Castle-Hughes), a young Maori girl who struggles to find her place in her family and community in the face of a tradition which doesn't recognise her.
Surviving her twin brother and mother who both die during childbirth, Pia grows up knowing she's a disappointment to her grandfather, Koro Apirana (Rawiri Paratene), who expected his grandson to become the next tribal leader. Pia's own father has rejected the Maori way of life and pursues another life in Europe with his new girlfriend who's pregnant, and this simply serves to deepen Koro's disappointment with Pia: [I]if only she was a boy! So struggling with the notion of “what's wrong with me?” and defying her supposed place in the world, Pia gracefully fights for her place, getting into trouble at every turn but finding strength to finally do some remarkable things which bring the community truly together...
Whale Rider is a deep movie that has almost mystical tones. Offering a rich insight into a culture barely touched upon in mainstream cinema, we have a fantastic view of a small community trying to stay true to itself, reinforced by some excellent characters. Performances are universally good, but the true star of the show is Keisha Castle-Hughes who is mesmerising onscreen; one has to wonder how successful or interesting the movie would have been without her, for the one criticism that could be levelled at Whale Rider is the pacing. It is slow in places, and without a doubt the pace, tone and content will not be to everyone's tastes.
Indeed, the story itself is a rather simple tale at heart and certainly not original, but the setting is enchanting and whilst slow, it's told with real heart. If you want to watch a relaxing movie devoid of the usual Hollywood sheen, then this is highly recommended.
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