Whale Rider Niki Caro

"When I was born, my twin brother died and took our mother with him.” And so begins Nikki Caro’s wrenching, resplendent second film, Whale Rider, a coming of age story of a young Maori girl, Pai, who goes to great lengths to convince her grandfather that, in the absence of a male heir, the chief-ship should pass to her, a fate he steadfastly refuses to recognise. Maori elder Koro (Rawiri Paratene) is the grandfather and chief, the last in a patrimonial line that stretches back to Paikea, the tribe’s progenitor, who legend has it, came to their ancestral home on the back of a whale. Though he loves his granddaughter, tradition dictates that a girl, no matter how capable, may never fill that position, making for a compelling classical conflict with modern-day underpinnings. A sensation on last year’s film fest circuit, Whale Rider is one of those rare films that moves well beyond its own hype and propels its viewers with unexpected emotional force into a mythological realm far beyond their expectations and imaginings. The movie draws much of its strength from the community it sets out to depict — a remote, beautifully photographed fishing village on the coast of New Zealand. It is also propelled by an incredible ensemble cast of actors, in particular Keisha Castle-Hughes as Pai. Her earnest and unaffected a performance anchors the film, a fact parroted in even more glowing terms in the special features. Caro steers the film with rare directness, letting the story breathe and tell itself in its own time, and Lisa Gerrard’s score, explored in greater detail in the features, is also a welcome relief from most Hollywood fare. A documentary on the making of the canoe and the making of the film, a few deleted scenes and an intimate-feeling photo gallery round out the package. When the words "dedicated to those who came before” appear on screen you cannot help but feel that they had a hand in the final product. This is a masterpiece. (Alliance Atlantis)