A long time ago, my ancestor Paikea came to this place on the back of a whale. Since then, in every generation of my family, the first born son has carried his name and become the leader of our tribe… until now.
There are only a few movies that I would give the label ‘ingenious’. Yet this movie is one of those that impressed me a lot and made me want to look it again from the beginning the minute the screen faded to black. It’s almost a shame the DVD cost less than 9€. It has won many awards at world-known – at least in the cinephile scene – film festivals: Toronto 2002 (People’s Choice Award), Sundance 2003 (World Cinema Audience Award) and San Francisco 2003 (Best Narrative Feature), to name only a few.
The film is based on a novel by the New Zealand writer Witi Ihimaera and tells the Maori legend of Paikea, the Whale Rider. For thousand years, the Rangatira’s (= chief) eldest son has been given the name of Paikea and succeeded to the title, until now. During the birth of twins, the mother and the male twin die, leaving a daughter, Pai, as the only inheritor to the title. Her desperate father leaves New Zealand and his daughter and goes to Germany, returning only twelve years later, refusing however to succeed to his father’s postion as a Rangatira. Pai being a female, her grandfather does not accept her as the inheritor of his title, and the child has to fight her beloved grandfather to fulfill her destiny.
Most of the film is quite authentic, it was turned on location in Whangara, the legend of the whale rider really exists in this Maori tribe and the movie shows a lot of the Maori culture, most of the minor characters being played by Maori people. A lot of the dialogues are in Maori language and one learns a lot about their culture through rituals, dances and world views presented throughout the movie. In fact, much of the movie shows Pai doing traditional Maori things which women are not allowed to do. So, the film cast and crew performed special Maori chants in order to protect themselves and the others from bad luck.
Pai is played by one of the best actors I have ever seen, Keisha Castle-Hughes, who is in fact half Maori, and whom the Star Wars fans among you might know for playing the Queen of Naboo in Episode III. She became the youngest actress ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the age of 13 in 2004, a nomination she clearly deserved – and she’d really have deserved getting the award. Her acting is authentic, the fact that she has been doing Maori dance since the age of 6 also helps her in performing realisticly.
This is definitely a movie to put on your must watch list. Full of strong emotions, a great storyline, excellent actors and actresses and an exciting insight into the Maori culture. If you’re not a cinephile however, better leave this film alone, for it asks a lot from its audience.
For those of you having been to Prof. Kühlwein’s course about the Maori language, it might also be interesting to actually hear the language spoken by native speakers. :)