LIFE, ABOVE ALL
By Roger Ebert / written from Cannes 2010
Oliver Schmitz's Life, Above All has been the best heart-warmer and tear-jerker so far--and when I write from Cannes I use the term "tear-jerker" as a compliment, because this is a hardened crowd and when you hear snuffling in the dark you know it has been honestly earned. The film is about deep human emotions, evoked with sympathy and love.
Life, Above All takes place entirely within a South African township, one with moderate prosperity and well-tended homes. It centers on the 12-year-old Chanda, who takes on the responsibility of holding her family together after her baby sister dies. Her mother is immobilized by grief, her father by drink, and a neighbor woman helps her care for two younger siblings.
Suspicion spreads in the neighborhood that the real cause of the family's problems is AIDS, although the word itself isn't said aloud until well into the film. More plot details can await my review, but let me particularly praise the performances of young Khomotso Manyaka, in her first role as Chanda; Keaobaka Makanyane as her mother, and Tinah Mnumzana as the neighbor. The film's ending frightens the audience with a dire threat, and then finds an uplift that's unlikely enough in its details to qualify as magic realism.
Life, Above All must be particularly effective in South Africa, where former president Thabo Mbeki persisted in puzzling denial about the causes and treatment of AIDS. This contributed to a climate of ignorance and mystery surrounding the disease, which in fact increased its spread. By directly dealing with the poisonous climate of rumor and gossip, the film takes a stand. But in nations where AIDS has been demystified, Life, Above All will play strongly as pure human drama, and of two women, one promptly and one belatedly, rising courageously to a challenge.
Cast & Credits
Khomotso Manyaka, Keaobaka Makanyane, Harriet Lenabe
Running time: 100 minutes.