Life, Above All

"Excellent"

Life, Above All Review


Taking on some big issues, this gorgeously shot drama explores African life and culture with honesty, emotion and hope. And it's almost overpoweringly involving due to an amazing central performance.

After her infant sister dies, 12-year-old Chanda (Manyaka) becomes the de facto head of the household in a dusty South African village. Her mother (Mvelase) is shattered by emotion and illness, the baby's father (Poolo) is a drunk, and her younger siblings (Kgaladi and Mathebe) don't understand what's happening. As rumours spread about the affliction in their home, Chanda also struggles to help her friend Esther (Makanyane), who has turned to prostitution because everybody thinks she's doing it anyway. Can Chanda turn to her judgmental neighbour (Manamela) for help?

First-time actress Manyaka's performance is a gritty, raw depiction of courage and compassion. Through her expressive eyes, we experience each wrenching scene, knowing that her intelligence offers a tiny sliver of promise in a desperate situation. She's the only person who realises that her mother and stepfather are suffering from Aids; no one else will even utter the word, preferring to ignore it or indulge in a pseudo-magical treatment. But Chanda knows what that means, and tenaciously tries to keep the people she loves alive.

Schmitz directs the film with an intensely personal touch, using Bernhard Jasper's lush cinematography to create a sensitive mood. Everything is grounded in real life as seen through the eyes of this alert, expectant pre-teen. So there's earthy humour, painful awkwardness, callous cruelty and abject despair, and not always where we expect to find them. And the film so cleverly addresses these urgent topics that it takes the breath away, catching us up in the human drama rather than any moralising.

Yes, this is a tough, unflinching, often harrowing story, but through warm relationships, loyal friendship and compassionate humanity, the film also finds reasons to be hopeful, boldly standing up to misinformation and folktales that can be so deeply damaging. Sure, the filmmakers might be preaching to the choir - how many villagers will get a chance to see this? But by taking such a bold stand against ignorance, this film's importance can't be underestimated.



Life, Above All

Facts and Figures

Genre: Foreign

Run time: 100 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 12th May 2011

Box Office USA: $0.1M

Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

Production compaines: Dreamer Joint Venture Filmproduction

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Fresh: 59 Rotten: 13

IMDB: 7.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Oliver Schmitz

Producer: Oliver Stoltz

Starring: Khomotso Manyaka as Chanda, Keaobaka Makanyane as Esther, Lerato Mvelase as Lillian, Harriet Lenabe as Mrs. Tafa

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