Monday, February 5, 2007

Nowhere in Africa and Whale Rider

First published in PChome (2004/1).

The director of Nowhere in Africa is Caroline Link. She is also the director of Beyond Silence. The director of Whale Rider is Niki Caro (also directed North Country).

When I watched these films directed by female directors recently, I was amazed at the differences between films directed by male and female directors. Of course, the biggest difference is how they describe how women feel and think. This is difficult for a male director -- if you are not a fish, it is very difficult to know what a fish thinks. On the other hand, generally speaking, up to now I feel that the female directors process how humans (not only women) feel and think and change more carefully.

If we compare Whale Rider and Nowhere in Africa, the later describes women with more details and from more different perspectives: being a daughter, being a wife, being a lover, and being a mother.

Even if the two films have incited sections, they are the results of full development of the characters. For example, in Whale Rider, we can see the personality of the girl and her grandfather: how the grandfather has such contradict emotion toward the girl (love her but try to ignore her because she is a girl), and how the girl loves his grandfather. At the last minute, when his grandfather no longer tries to ignore her because she is a girl, when he finally admits that he loves her, and when we saw how Maori people loves the whales and the nature, we understand what it is and cry because we feel something similar in ourselves.

In Nowhere in Africa, the character of the leading actress (the mother) has been portrayed with lots of work. Especially when love and trust for her husband is lost, what will she chooses? The soft but intermingling dilemma is hard to be touched.

In addition to women, how a Jewish German in Africa faces the change of history is also a dilemma. They want to recognize German as homeland but cannot. They want to recognize Africa as homeland but cannot. They may want to patronize the aboriginal people, or they may want to be freinds with the aboriginal people. This is how we view ourselves. This is how we deal with the dilemma about what we are and what we want to be. This is how we think happiness is. The immortal tenacity in humans makes the film, not a tragedy, still distillate our fear and hate into compassion.

At last, I want to talk about how the directors deal with the culture that is not the culture they used to live with. It can not be done with only thorough study on the culture. The audience observes the culture through the director’s eyes. The director must really like the culture, and the audience will like this culture through the lens. In Whale Rider, Maori dance is very cute. In Nowhere in Africa, we are also attracted by the mysterious ceremonies and how African deal with life.

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