- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jan
Her story plays out against the backdrop of a New Zealand costal community. Koro (Rawiri Paratene), the leader of the Ngati Konohi tribe, has given up on passing leadership to his sons. One is fat and lazy, the other abandoned the tribe to be an artist in Germany. So Koro wants a young man who will embrace the tribe's traditions.
Since the tribe only looks to men for leadership, Koro grows angry when Pai herself starts showing all the signs of the traditional "crown prince." He refuses to consider her as an alternative. It is up to his wife, Nanny Flowers (Vicki Haughton), a wiser, gentler sort of leader, to cultivate Pai's virtues behind Koro's back until the time is right for her to claim her place in the tribal history.
Some of the credit goes to Caro for directing such an enchanting adaptation of New Zealand writer Witi Ihimaera's novel. Lisa Gerrard should also be commended for providing music that suits the story's mystical qualities.
But a good deal of credit also goes to Keisha Castle-Hughes, the astonishing young actress who brings to life Pai's sufferings and triumphs. She transforms this production into a heart-wrenching drama. Her monologue near the end of the film is delivered with fierce energy; this simple speech becomes more breathtaking than all of the special-effects sequences in
J. Robert Parks (Phantom Tollbooth) asks, "So, are there any family-friendly movies out right now that are actually friendly for the whole family? Indeed there are, though you'll have to find an art theater to see it. Fortunately, the trip is worth the effort.
Movieguide's critic objects because the film portrays "an acceptance of pagan beliefs, including ancestor worship, in its story, which also takes a syncretistic approach that provides a multicultural, feminist, politically-correct spin." But he admits, "The positive, profamily themes in the movie may also furnish some insights for Christians."
Should we fault a film about a foreign culture because the film illustrates that culture's beliefs? Perhaps, if the film becomes propaganda for those beliefs, driven by an evangelistic agenda. But
Mainstream critics certainly seem inspired by the film. Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) says the movie "makes itself fresh, observant, tough and genuinely moving. There is a vast difference between movies for 12-year-old girls, and movies about 12-year-old girls, and
Denny Wayman and Hal Conklin (Cinema in Focus) are also impressed. "As a retelling of an ancient legend, the messages are universal. Parents and grandparents often place expectations on children that seem impossible to fulfill. At the same time, parents are afraid that their lives will be failures unless their children succeed. Parents … must be shown that it is not until their children and grandchildren become who they are created to be that harmony and unity is restored."
But they do admit some misgivings about the film: "The spiritual messages in the film are primitive. Worshiping the creature rather than the Creator is a primitive form of religion found throughout the world."