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A small Maori village faces a crisis when the heir to the leadership of the Ngati Konohi dies at birth and is survived only by his twin sister, Pai. Although disregarded by her grandfather and shunned by the village people, twelve-year-old Pai remains certain of her calling and trains herself in the ways and customs of her people. With remarkable grace, Pai finds the strength to challenge her family and embraces a thousand years of tradition in order to fulfill her destiny.
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The cast is outstanding, most of whom are actual members of the coastal villiage where the film was made.Young Keisha Castle-Hughes was selected to play Pai and is remarkable. Some of the scenes brought both my wife and I to tears, they were so powerfully portrayed.
The extras on this special edition are a treat and include cast interviews along with deleted scenes. I wish a cut was available with the deleted scenes included where they were cut.
The story is set among a group of Maori in present-day New Zealand. The two main characters are the chief of this group ("Paka") and his troublesome 13-year old granddaughter ("Pai"). The grandfather loves Pai as a granddaughter but also blames her for "the troubles," which he believes started the night she was born. (Her brother, who should have become the heir, died at birth, as did the mother; the father, Paka's eldest son, was so distraught that he fled New Zealand and established himself as an up-and-coming artist in Europe -- abandoning his people, in Paka's view.)
From the beginning, Pai shows unusual talents and interest in "the old ways," but Paka cannot see it because of his obsession with a male heir. At one point he gives up on his family and starts a school to find the potential heir among the first-born sons of the tribe -- with rather unpredictable results. If Amazon had a 6 star rating, I'd give this movie 6.
The casting of this movie is brilliant. The conflict between Paka and Pai sizzles and the supporting characters (notably Paka's wife and Paka's two sons, the father and the uncle) are brilliant. Even the walk-on characters, like the other tribe members and the boys who attend the school are great.
The scenery is fabulous and the story unfolds in a beautiful way. The movie is enjoyable on so many levels -- as good entertainment, as an inspiring story, as an interesting perspective on a different culture, or as a story on the generational conflict, families, and love.
I highly recommend it.
First, the objections of some other viewers are correct. The plot IS predictable and the message IS politically correct. A little girl who is destined to be the new leader of her patriarchal tribe has to prove herself against the stubborn resistance and willful blindness of her grandfather, who is the current tribal chieftain. Obviously, the film is not going to end with her being packed off to a nunnery.
Now onto the real meat of this film - stupendous spirituality, near perfect story execution, hauntingly magical presentation, rich cultural content and of course, Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was apparently born to light up a movie screen with her eyes.
If you are teaching world literature, I would honestly put this film in my top 20 of all time for that purpose. One writing prompt I used was, "What cultures do you claim as your own, and what can you tell me about them?" This prompt caused such an animated discussion about culture, especially in the wake of the film, that it had to spill over into the next class.
BTW - in my opinion, the "PG-13" rating is completely unwarranted, and "PG" would have been spot-on. However, I can't speak for your own cultural or personal sensibilities, and I would certainly recommend a complete pre-viewing before you show it.
The movie tries to balance modern-day realities against age-old customs, while offering an optimistic view of Maori life. It builds slowly to its dramatic end. Pai is dealt a cruel blow when her grandfather refuses to train her in the ancient rituals. Her grandfather is the spiritual leader of the village and hasn't been able to overcome the fact that neither of his sons have been able to give him a grandson. She had chosen to stay in the village rather than go off to Europe with her father. Pai's grandmother offers some solace, but ultimately Pai has to take matters into her own hands when a pod of whales is left stranded on the beach. She had learned the rituals from her uncle, who sees in Pai what her grandfather is unable to. Pai has a natural calling for whales and feels it was her fault that the whales beached themselves.
The scenes are evocatively handled and one sees much of the beauty in Maori culture with very little of the harsh realities. Niki Caro gives the movie the feeling of a parable, which should play well with young audiences.