Whale Rider

Year: 2003
Director: Niki Caro
Writer: Niki Caro/Witi Ihimaera
Cast: Keira Castle-Hughes, Cliff Curtis
A very strong movie that sort of fits into the current fashion for showing how marginalised indigenous races are (sometimes by adhering to their own traditions), but is done so well it stands alone.

When a Maori artist and his wife (who dies in childbirth) give birth to twins, the boy dies and only the girl is left.

She grows up living with her grandparents while her father travels the world for his work, and while her grandfather loves her, he's a staunch traditionalist craving for a boy to become the new tribal chief.

Doggedly trying to win over his respect, she eavesdrops on the special classes he runs for the local boys trying to find the one who will lead the tribe, drawing his ire even further.

With themes of traditionalism and the battle it faces from living in the modern world orbiting it, the story is essentially fairly simple, but done so beautifully and with such emotion you'll be astounded.

The photography is excellent, veteran Maori actor Curtis is a pillar of abject cruelty in the most subtle of ways, but the real star is Castle-Hughes, who gives one of the most natural performances a child actor ever has in a movie. The scene of her recital at school, struggling through the tears to deliver it because her beloved grandfather hasn't shown up for it, would melt the hardest of hearts.

When it touches on the supernatural at the climatic whale rescue - as she somehow convinces the matriarch of a family of beached whales to return to sea (with her on its back) - the film has been such a beautiful experience it doesn't seem at all out of place.

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