Review: Whale Rider-Whale Rider (2002)

Director: 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, 13-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” brought her huge exposure. The film itself won one prize after another. “Whale Rider” is based on Witi Ihimaera’s 1987 novel of the same name about a young Maori girl who grows up to be a hero of her tribe. According to Maori mythology (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 with the ancients at birth. Pai (named after Paikea) must defy her grandfather to achieve her destiny.

With the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Peter Jackson put the beautiful and very varied landscape of New Zealand on the map. In “Whale Rider” the story is set by the sea, but the cliffs, hills and beaches look great. The underwater images of the whales (the other protagonists) and the sound bring 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 get a lump in your throat when Pai pours out her heart. Compliments to Keisha Castle-Hughes for this beautiful, moving debut performance! She then 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, lets go and her contours blur in the water.

But the rest of the cast is particularly good. Rawiri Paratene as a complex, surly grandpa 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 has starred in “Blow” (2001), “Collateral Damage” (2002) and “The Fountain” (2006). Also pay attention to Mana Taumaunu, the boy who plays Hemi, he also deserves a compliment. Director and script writer Niki Caro beautifully portrayed the mysticism of Maori. But don’t think the movie is all about Maori culture with the chants, mythology, martial arts and other traditions. “Whale Rider” is more than that. It’s 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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