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Whale Rider

One young girl dared to confront the past, change the present and determine the future 

Year: 2002 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC PG Cert – Parental guidance 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from Whale Rider

In the midst of the Hollywood blockbusters of the year, it was refreshing to see this low budget gem appear in cinemas over the summer.  ‘Whale Rider’ tells the story of Pai, a young Maori girl growing up with the pressures of the modern world and of her own heritage weighing on her shoulders.  The centre of the film is the relationship between Pai and her grandfather Koro, a tribal chief who longs for a grandson and heir to continue his beliefs.  He constantly disapproves of her, and yet she continues to do all she can to please him, as a grandson would have.  He rejects her attempts to fulfil the role of chief herself, and instead turns to the largely uninterested boys of the village, by setting up a school to train a new chief and instil into the children the Maori traditions.  However Pai already possesses all the qualities of a leader and even a saviour of the Maori tribe.  She is brave and passionate about their customs, and shows great determination as she attempts to win the love of her grandfather and the village.

The film contains many fine performances, most notably by young Keisha Castle-Hughes, who expresses Pai’s desire to please her grandfather in a deeply moving performance.  One scene in particular will have everyone in the cinema blinking back the tears... it is an incredibly mature and assured performance from the young actress.  Rawiri Paratene is also excellent as the harsh and cold chief devoted to the heritage he feels is slipping away.  He appears distant to his family but is passionate about his traditions.

The scenery of New Zealand was of course dramatically displayed in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films, and ‘Whale Rider’ is beautifully filmed along a stunning coastline.  The scenery and the music perfectly reflect the difficulties faced by Pai and the community as a whole, which seems cut-off and remote.  The film also informs the audience about Maori culture, and if you know little of this, it is fascinating.  The film is steeped in legend and mysticism, whilst at the same time remaining realistic, and tackling important themes of family and modernisation with gentle humour and a heart-warming story.

Kathryn Hand

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Screenings of this film:

2003/2004 Spring Term (35mm)