Saturday, July 9, 2011

Life, Above All (SOUTH AFRICAN)

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Stoic 12 Year-Old Overcomes Ostracism in Bittersweet South African Saga

It’s bad enough that her newborn sister has just died of an unspecified illness, now Chanda (Khomotso Manyaka) finds herself having to fend-off all the ugly rumors about her family circulating around their tight-knit community located in the slums just outside Johannesburg. At a time when most 12 year-olds are simply focusing on schoolwork, she’s shouldering the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings, Soly (Thato Kgaladi) and Iris (Mapaseka Mathebe). Plus, she’s worried about whether her BFF Esther (Keaobaka Makanyane) will even play with her anymore.
That unfortunate predicament has been Chanda’s lot in life since her selfish stepfather Jonah (Aubrey Poolo) accused her mother (Lerato Myelase) of having poisoned their baby by breastfeeding. For sickly Lillian has been suffering from an ailment that her alarmed neighbors suspect to be HIV.
In fact, she’s already so weakened by her deteriorating condition that she’s become dependent on the charity of the church. And when her trifling hubby skips town, she has to ask Mrs. Tafa (Harriet Manamela) next-door to serve as a surrogate parent to her three daughters. Meanwhile, Lillian’s desperate enough to seek out healing from a wily witch doctor (Mary Twala) who resorts to unorthodox healing regimens like snakes to cast out her fading patient’s demons.
This is the harrowing state of affairs established in Life, Above All, a bittersweet drama directed by Oliver Schmitz. Based on the award-winning novel “Chanda's Secrets” by Allan Stratton, the movie marks the screen debut of Khomotso Manyaka, a talented actress with no formal training. Ms. Manyaka turns in a moving performance in an emotionally-demanding lead role as the picture’s courageous heroine. Her supporting cast proves equally effective in service of the heartrending tale.
A convincing portrayal of the tragic plight of the HIV+ poor in South Africa.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality and mature themes.
In Sotho with subtitles
Running time: 100 Minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

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