Written by: FFT Webmaster | July 19th, 2011
LIFE, ABOVE ALL, a gritty drama from South Africa, is about as far as one can get from a feel-good summer blockbuster. However, it is a testament to the quality of the film and the courage of its distributor Sony Pictures Classics to bring out this highly rewarding yet disturbing film at the height of the summer action movie frenzy. As alternative programming for intelligent viewers, this film is an eye-opener.
A hit on the international festival circuit since its world premiere debut at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, LIFE, ABOVE ALL focuses on Chanda (played with great sincerity by newcomer Khomotso Manyaka), a 14-year-old girl who is mourning the death of her little sister and coming to terms with her mother’s supposedly mysterious illness. Her drunken, philandering stepfather is of no use, so Chanda must run the family as her mother’s situation worsens as she becomes entangled in the AIDS epidemic.
Positing a young girl’s sincerity and adherence to the truth against the backdrop of damaging superstitions and fear that rule her tight-knit community, the beautifully shot film offers an impressive insight into those paying the highest possible price for pride and denial of the AIDS epidemic. Deeply moving without resorting to cheap sentiment or ridiculous melodrama, the film also comments on the harrowing reality of child prostitution, while not being shy about occasional humor and a sense of hope in the future.
The film’s director Oliver Schmitz made a name for himself in international circles in the mid 1980s with the film MAPANTSULA, one of the great Apartheid-era South African dramas. Here he adapts a celebrated 2004 novel “Chanda’s Secrets”, where he unflinchingly explores life in a rural township for one girl whose family is in freefall. LIFE, ABOVE ALL is a sobering and in the end inspiring portrait of an often brutal world where hope can still make all the difference, particularly when it is a flame carried in the heart of a young girl who seeks to transcend her origins and move into the light. By stressing the healing that can come when there is forgiveness and acceptance, the film offers a universal message while also being true to its origins and cultural specificity. For more information on the film and to view its trailer, visit: http://www.sonyclassics.com/lifeaboveall/