Review: Whale Rider-Te kaieke tohora (2002)

Whale Rider-Te kaieke tohora (2002)

Directed by: Niki Caro | 101 minutes | drama, family | Actors: Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rawiri Paratene, Vicky Haughton, Cliff Curtis, Grant Roa, Mana Taumaunu, Rachel House, Taungaroa Emile, Tammy Davis, Mabel Wharekawa, Rawinia Clarke, Tahei Simpson, Roi Taimana, Elizabeth Skeen, Tyronne White, Taupua Whakataka-Brightwell, Tenia McClutchie-Mita, Peter Patuwai, Rutene Spooner, Riccardo Davis, Apiata Whangaparita-Apanui, John Sumner, Sam Woods, Pura Tangira, Jane O’Kane, Aumuri Parata-Haua, Heemi Taumaunu

In 2004, thirteen-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes became the youngest actress ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. The nomination for her role in the New Zealand film ‘Whale Rider’ gave her enormous fame. The film itself won one prize after another. ‘Whale Rider’ is based on Witi Ihimaera’s 1987 novel of the same name about the young Maori girl who grows up to be a hero of her tribe. According to the mythology of the Maori (the original inhabitants of New Zealand), one of the ancestors came ashore in Whangara on the back of a whale. He is Paikea, the Whale Rider who can communicate with the whales. Eleven-year-old Pai Apirana (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is his most recent descendant, but she is a girl and according to her grandfather Koro or ‘Paka’ she broke the line to the ancients with her birth. Pai (named after Paikea) must face her grandfather to achieve her destiny.

With the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, Peter Jackson put the beautiful and very diverse landscape of New Zealand on the map. In ‘Whale Rider’ the story is set by the sea, but the cliffs, hills and beaches look amazing. The underwater images of the whales (the other protagonists) and the sound convey a serene feeling to the viewer. ‘Whale Rider’ is very beautiful in all its simplicity. Not for a moment do you think in terms of the actors or acting while watching this movie. It is almost a documentary that emphasizes important moments with its penetrating music. See if you can keep it dry when Pai makes her speech at the school concert. Even watching this scene several times will give you a lump in your throat as Pai pours out her heart. Congratulations to Keisha Castle-Hughes for this beautiful, moving debut performance! She next starred in ‘Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith’ (2005). Keisha was discovered by the casting directors among a few hundred children at her primary school in Mt Wellington, New Zealand because she was very smart, she stood out. Also striking are the images when Pai rides on the back of the whale, let go and her contours fade into the water.

But the rest of the cast is very good. Rawiri Paratene as a complex, gruff grandfather and Vicky Haughton as a loving, stubborn grandmother. Cliff Curtis is probably the most famous face in the movie as Pai’s father Porourangi. He starred in ‘Blow’ (2001), ‘Collateral Damage’ (2002) and ‘The Fountain’ (2006). Also pay attention to Mana Taumaunu, the boy who plays Hemi, he too deserves a compliment. Director and scriptwriter Niki Caro beautifully portrayed the mysticism of Maori. But don’t think that the film is all about Maori culture with its song, mythology, martial arts and other traditions. ‘Whale Rider’ is more than that. It is a story about family, emancipation and believing in yourself.

A moving, authentic story that will leave an unforgettable impression on every viewer.

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