This film, which opened in New York recently, was a total surprise. Director Niki Caro has done wonders in bringing this story to the screen as it shows a different and much simple world than the rat race of our society and the horrible times we live in.
The film presents a glimpse of the Maori society in New Zealand's North Island. Having visited New Zealand, but not being very familiar with the Maori culture, this film was a refreshing way to learn some aspects of it.
The story presented here has a lot to do with pride and tradition, which is a running theme among different cultural groups the world over. It has to do with the frustration of Koro by the defection of his eldest son, the designated heir of hundred years of a bloodline where only the males can carry the knowledge and the legends from one generation to the next.
Because of the rage Porourangi, the eldest son, feels after the death of his wife giving birth to twins, where only the female survives, he leaves his country and the baby girl is taken by the grandparents. The girl, Pai, will grow to be an enchanting girl who will be excluded from the teachings of her grandfather Koro. Even though he loves the girl, he can't deviate in his narrow vision of the world he knows.
Basically, it is a simple story very well told with a great performance by the child actress Keisha Castle-Hughes. This girl has such a strong magnetism while on camera that one tends to forget the rest of the other characters every time she appears. The grandparents are very well portrayed by Rawiri Paratene and Vicky Houghton.
This is a film for all ages to enjoy. Compare it with the latest releases from Hollywood, and it's no wonder to arrive at the conclusion that stories like Whale Rider have such an universal appeal that should be brought to the screen more often because of the positive way they show a society and its people at its best.