One of the most satisfying films of the year, Niki Caro's Whale Rider, is set in a small Maori village on New Zealand's eastern shore. The film begins with the juxtaposition of life and death, as a mother dies giving birth to twins. The male twin also dies, leaving the infant girl, Pai, as the sole survivor of this sad day. What makes her arrival all the more difficult for her family--especially her stern grandfather, Koro, the aging tribal chief--is that the dead grandson was prophesied to be the heir, the one who would lead the struggling tribe once Koro passed on. What use is a girl? he observes bitterly, as he all but abandons her in the delivery room.
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