One young girl dared to confront the past, change the present and determine the future
Running Time: 105 minutes
UK Certificate: PG
Country: Germany, New Zealand (Aotearoa)
The idea of making a film about a remarkable youngster shunned by a staunchly-traditionalist parent figure really isnt an incredibly new one. Think Billy Elliot or Bend It Like Beckham and youve already got two textbook examples from Blighty. But I must be a sucker for a nice bit of scenery, because Ill take the lush fields and breezy beaches featured in New Zealands Whale Rider over the backdrops of those two films any day.
Whale Rider is the story of Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes), a young girl resented by grandfather Koro (Rawiri Paratene) for the heinous crime of being born a female. He longs instead for a grandson to carry on the family name, as they are the last descendants of the original Maori leader who, according to legend, went about on a whale. Under the circumstances, youd think that Pai would jump at the chance to flit to Germany with her long-absent dad, and youll wonder why on Earth she doesnt when that opportunity arises. Perhaps its because the place is so full of Germans though I stress that thats just a guess.
So, shunning his granddaughter despite her continual attempts to impress, Koro seeks out a new great chief among the first-born boys of the local neighbourhood. Meanwhile, Pai sets about upstaging each of the lads with her superior skills at stick-fighting, swimming, and pulling faces and even goes as far as to go riding on a whale. She does it to show Gramps that she too can be great, that she too can inspire those around her, and that she too is capable of proudly carrying the family name. Id probably have done it predominantly out of spite, but those other reasons are good too.
Just like the stubborn parent-types in those two films mentioned earlier, Koro is an infuriating character to watch and 105 minutes of his moaning can be tough on the system. But this is a strangely-engrossing film, beautiful to look at and featuring probably the best child performance of the year from Castle-Hughes. Its probably not one thats going to be appreciated by the kids (despite its family tag) but, if you can, send the ankle-biters in to Rugrats Go Wild and slip next door to watch this one.
It's Got: An incredibly saddening scene featuring beached whales.
It Needs: To inject a little more humour.
Picturesque, slow-paced, atmospheric and very well-acted but lacking a little in spark and invention.