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View From the Couch

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WHALE RIDER A star was born in this recent art-house hit: New Zealand actress Keisha Castle-Hughes, who proved to be the best young import from that part of the world since Anna Paquin stunned us in The Piano a decade earlier. In writer-director Niki Caro's adaptation of Witi Ihimaera's 1986 novel, Castle-Hughes stars as Pai, a 12-year-old girl who had survived a difficult birth that killed her mother and twin brother. Pai is a descendant of Paikea, who, as the legend goes, first arrived in what would become this Maori clan's village riding on the back of a whale. Pai displays all the characteristics that would enable her to one day become the village leader, but because she's female, her tradition-minded grandfather (Rawiri Paratene) dismisses her from consideration, showing controlled love for her as his flesh and blood but lashing out whenever she attempts to step outside what he perceives as her lot in life. Employing dashes of fantasy in what is largely a realistic family drama, Whale Rider is above all a moving drama about a young girl's efforts to find her place in the world while simultaneously seeking the love and respect of a patriarch whose own stubbornness blackens an otherwise noble spirit. As Pai, Castle-Hughes delivers a clear-headed performance that, like the film which embraces it, never succumbs to cloying sentiment but instead finds heartbreak and hope in a naturalistic manner. DVD features include audio commentary by Caro, eight deleted scenes, a making-of special, and a soundtrack showcase featuring segments of Lisa Gerrard's atmospheric score. Movie: / Extras:

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