Whale Rider | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Adapted from a novel by Witi Ihimaera, this magic-realist film from New Zealand updates an ancient Maori legend about a coastal village whose founder arrived on the back of a whale. The current village chieftain is worried because he has no male successor: his son has immigrated to Germany and his grandson has died at birth. His granddaughter is a clear leader, but he won't even consider her. The miraculous outcome is predictable, yet this 2002 film, written and confidently directed by Niki Caro, is utterly fresh and beguiling. It's anchored by the natural performances of novice Keisha Castle-Hughes, who's quietly expressive as the spunky girl, and veteran Rawiri Paratene, playing the gruff chieftain who loves his family but refuses to show it. Leon Narbey's cinematography captures both the beauty and squalor of the Maori hamlet. In English with subtitled Maori. 105 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Esquire, Landmark's Century Centre.

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