Whale Rider · 2003 Movie · Trailer · Review

Whale Rider · 2003 Movie · Trailer · Review

Whale Rider: A charming family film about a Maori girl who, against tradition, wants to become the leader of her clan.

Once we were warriors, and now the future of our world must be in the hands of a girl? Niki Caro’s debut film tells of these frightening perspectives on patriarchal Maori culture, and the generation gap, between tradition and departure. This New Zealand-German co-production became the audience favorite at Sundance this year, and is also recommended to German audiences as a film for the whole family. Without the side effects of some projects marketed under this label.

This gentle, tolerant film has nothing to do with the tone of angry reports on the survival of Maori culture, both historical (“Otu”) and modern (“The Last Warrior”). It’s more like John Sayles’s legendary fairy tale “The Secret of the Baby Seal.” At its core, it’s about similar themes: the uprooting of Maori as their cultural foundations are increasingly eroded. Set against a stunning New Zealand coastal backdrop, Caro’s adaptation of a 1988 novel aims to put ancient traditions in new hands.

Paikea (Keisha Castle-Hughes, a revelation like a young Winona Ryder once did) is the firstborn of a Maori chief, and unlike her twin brother and mother, she has survived the rare birth. It has taken Paikea years to overcome the bitterness of her grandfather, Koru, who saw his son emigrate abroad and thus had to bury the dream of a male heir. But when she tries to present herself to the narrow-minded, tradition-conscious man as a possible alternative to lead the clan, she is met with relentless rejection, culminating in her grandfather withdrawing his love. Koru is afraid of what the film makes clear from the start: Paikea is the reincarnation of the mythical whale rider, the Maori ancestor who came from Hawaii long ago on the back of a whale. The brave, stubborn little man loves his homeland and his cultural roots, even preaching to the elders when he smokes in defiance of tradition, and secretly appropriates what their grandfather is trying to pass on to the tribe’s sons in order to unite them to appoint a successor.

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Gorgeously shot and vibrantly animated, “Whale Rider” is a cultural, family, and liberation drama, but it also finds some humor in the male-female dynamic. A touch of “Little Lord,” “Rapa Nui,” and even “Desert Planet” lingers over this beloved film, which in its lyrical finale sows hope for a new beginning in the fulfillment of the legend. Cobb.

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