Whale Rider (New Zealand/Germany; 105 min.)

directed by: Niki Caro
starring: Keisha Castle-Hughes; Rawiri Paratene; Vicky Haughton
Diane says: "I was very moved by this story of the Maori girl who battles against her grandfather's patriarchalism. Points off for not establishing well enough the current state of Maori culture. Where can I go to ride a whale?" 3 cats
Ivy says: "I have to say that I didn't originally want to see WHALE RIDER because Michael and Scot reacted negatively to it after the Women's Fest but then when Michael said that he wanted to stir up a strong discussion and Peg really likedit I thought that I must have to see the film and find out what I
think for myself. (Something that Chlotrudis' discussions as so supportive of thankfully.)

"I went last Thursday in the heat and was so glad that I did. I really loved the tale. I always like myth films and found this one to be a different look at the Maori world. Instead of the struggling, trashy, ill-fated world created by films like ONCE WERE WARRIORS (though a brilliant film and one that I think is important also), WHALE RIDER presents an option and future for a culture straddling becoming obselete with maintaining tribe culture.

"I didn't know that the Maori, or maybe just this tribe, are related to the Hawaiians. That was cool info. I loved the seaside setting, rather than the trailer track life. I also felt that WHALERIDER did show how endangered the future of this tribe was through the crumbling of the chief's family.

"I thought that the film was lacking in surprises, but that is normal for an allegory or myth based film. The value of the story is in the moral. Michael asked me what the film had to offer other than the 'girl power' moral. I think that was a big draw for me. But I'm not ashamed of that because I still think there are a lot of 'girl power' stories that are missing from the world, and many more need to be told before the value of that moral is worn thin. BUT I also think that the moral went deeper than that. It showed that the fault of misogyny and patriarchy isn't just in it's inherent belief in value or limits based on gender, but that it is damaging to a community. And when a community is threatened pushing one part down will not elevate another group it will diminish the value of the entire group. That is a pretty complex and real view of feminism and 'girl power.' And one I am happy to see that the world might be ready for.

"I've been thinking a lot about gender roles as I watched HULK and CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE this weekend, and based on those two films, we still have a long way to go. I'm not dogging either of those films at this moment, but just as a point of reference we all do have a long way to go for equality in

"Off that soap box though, I also found WHALE RIDER beautifully shot, and I really enjoyed the acting, especially by Pai. I can see how it holds some of those safe foreign-film-favorites like amusing secondary child roles, silly older women friends, etc. but that didn't bother me."

Laura says: "This New Zealand/German coproduction has scooped up the audience awards at film festivals from Toronto to Seattle. Niki Caro has created an antidote to the hopelessness of ONCE WERE WARRIORS with this forward looking tale of hope and pride of ancestry. Think of WHALE RIDERS as 'Once Again Warriors.'

"In voiceover narration, Pai let's us know that things will turn out alright in the end when she intones 'Koro wished that I had never been born. But he changed his mind.' Koro obviously has deep affection for his granddaughter, who he bicycles to and from school each day, but he is a stubborn traditionalist. He has already driven away his eldest son, Pai's father Porourangi (Cliff Curtis, COLLATERAL DAMAGE), who has become an ethnic artist in Europe rather than transforming into the mythic prophet his father hoped to find in him. Koro takes pride in Pai's practice of Whangara rites during school concerts, but when she takes a place in the front row of his 'chief' school and refuses to move to the back, Koro banishes her.

"As Koro teaches the local, giggling boys the warrior ways with a fighting stick (calling to mind Pat Morita in THE KARATE KID), Pai peeks in through the window and follows along. Grandmother Nanny Flowers (Vicky Haughton) sees a light in Pai that her husband is blind to and offhandedly mentions that her second son, Pai's Uncle Rawiri (Grant Roa) was a champion fighter and Pai's interest in learning renews Rawiri's self-esteem. Soon he's jogging on the beach. Pai's ability to get her people on the right path is demonstrated again when she influences a friend of her grandmother's to quit smoking. The film comes to a head when Pai, devastated by Koro's absence, gives a prize-winning speech about her love of her grandfather through tears. Unbeknownst to Pai, Koro was waylaid by the anguishing sight of whales beaching themselves.

"WHALE RIDER'S effectiveness is mostly due to the fact that writer/director Caro keeps it from being a feminist screed and instead makes it a story about the young teaching the old. The fact that there's never any doubt as to where the story is heading does make getting there a bit sluggish at times, but the characters are all richly drawn and the New Zealand locations striking. Caro very simplistically injects an air of mysticism into the story by cutting between Pai's chanting and horizon seeking with underwater shots of whales hovering beneath the surface of the sea, as if responding to her calls. The score, by Lisa Gerrard, occasionally references the music of whale calls." 3 1/2 cats

Michael says: "This film from New Zealand has been winning awards at film festivals the world over, and it's much-anticipated release comes to Boston this weekend. I had been looking forward to it since it won the Audience Award in Toronto last year, and had a chance to see it in April at the Boston Festival of International Women's Cinema. Perhaps it was the praise I had read/heard, perhaps it was my interest in New Zealand and it's films, but I was greatly disappointed by this film that could have been so fascinating and unique, but turned out to be as predicatble and sappy as it possibly could be (as Scot said, it was THE NEXT KARATE KID.)

New Zealand legend tells of Paikea, who rode whales and led his people to New Zealand. In honor of that tale, the chiefdom of the tribe has fallen to the first-born male each generation. But when Pai is born a twin, and her brother stillborn, the line is broken. Pai's father leaves New Zealand to cope with his grief, and her grandfather, who initially wants nothing to do with her, takes her in to raise her... not as a future-chieftan, but in her proper place as a girl.

Can you tell what's going to happen? Guess who's the whale rider mentioned in the title? Undeniably, WHALE RIDER is gorgeous... largely because of the landscape, and partially because of the efforts of the director and cinematographer. Adorable and intense Keisha Castle-Hughes is a wonder when conveynig the emotion and intensity of Pai, but lacks when conveying the physical prowess she is supposed to wield. And the grandparents are such stock characters that I just become more and more annoyed at the wasted opportunity this film could have presented. Learning about New Zealand maori culture, the struggles they face in today's world, and their ancestral beliefs could have been such a delight if not for the saccharine package these things are delivered in.

So, if BILLY ELIOT, BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM and heck, KARATE KID are among your favorite films, you'll probably enjoy Whale Rider quite a bit. And I'm not saying that's a bad thing... but if you like your films a little more complex, and groundbreaking, you'll want to skip WHALE RIDER." 2 cats
Peg says: "I respectfully disagree with Michael's lukewarm reception. I kept trying to decide while watching this film if it was indeed sentimental, etc. but ultimately decided it was truly moving. A sad and triumphant story of the survival of a living mythology: somthing we don't see much of in our own culture. And I thought the characters were all fairly complex. This tells such an unusual story and blends gritty realism (a community decaying in poverty) and magical realism (a girl saved from drowning by whales) very skillfully." 4 cats