Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Movies: Whale Rider

"Whale Rider," directed by Niki Caro, is probably unique for its blend of magical realism, family drama, and Māori stickfighting:



The film examines the complex relationship that Paikea has with her grandfather, the stoic Koro. Ambivalence born of tragedy permeates the whole affair; you see, Koro's tribe is in decline and it appears that the centuries-old line of chiefs is now coming to an end. Sneak in some sparring with the taiaha, a lot of Māori culture, and the visit of Pai's estranged father, and you have a movie.

You might recall Keisha Castle-Hughes garnering an Oscar nomination in 2003 for her portrayal of Paikea. Many of her scenes are heart-wrenching, especially her speech to a school assembly. Most of the mystical elements of the film are channeled through her character, too. Thankfully, the film avoids letting Pai's destiny overshadow her personality.

Some of the subplots, especially Pai's father's visit, seem disposable, and the film barely fills out its short 101 minute runtime with enough incident to sustain your interest. Still, there's probably never been a more popular exploration of Māori custom than "Whale Rider," which I suppose makes it worth a look.

Rating: 7/10

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