Life, Above All (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner27/05/2011

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 100 mins

Beautifully shot and superbly written, this is a powerfully emotional drama with a terrific central performance from newcomer Khomotso Manyaka.

What's it all about?
Directed by Oliver Schmitz, Life, Above All is set in a dusty South African village and stars Khomotso Manyaka as Chanda, a 12 year-old girl whose family are reeling from the recent death of her infant sister. While her distraught mother (Lerato Mvelase) succumbs to illness and the baby's drunken father (Aubrey Poolo) spirals into bitter accusations, Chanda attempts to keep the news of their sister's death from her two younger siblings (Mapaseka Mathebe, Thato Kgaladi) but gossip is already building amongst the other villagers, particularly judgmental neighbour Mrs Tafa (Harriet Manamela).

Chanda also has to contend with the pressures of her upcoming exams whilst trying to help her best friend Esther, (Keaobaka Makanyane) who has turned to prostitution as everyone in their community looks down on her, and thinks she's doing it anyway.

The Good
Newcomer Khomotso Manyaka makes an astonishingly assured debut as Chanda, delivering a genuinely stunning performance that is utterly heartbreaking to watch. Keaobaka Makanyane is equally good as Esther and the scenes between the two girls (arguably the most grown-up characters in the film) are powerfully moving.

The movie is beautifully shot and lit, with striking photography courtesy of cinematographer Bernhard Jasper. The sound design is superb too, with Schmitz allowing several scenes to unfold in near total silence, to impressive effect.

The Great
The sharply written script delivers its message in a powerful and involving way, constantly alert to the power of the word “AIDS” and cleverly highlighting the way that no-one can bring themselves to say it out loud; as such, the moment when someone first says it is extremely powerful. Similarly, Schmitz orchestrates several memorable and deeply moving scenes throughout, but there's also a lot of earthy, familiar humour in the film, particularly in the way Chanda interacts with her younger sister.

Worth seeing?
Impressively directed, superbly written and featuring a terrific performance from newcomer Khomotso Manyaka, Life, Above All is a powerfully moving drama that marks director Schmitz out as a talent to watch. Highly recommended.

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Life, Above All (12A)
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Content updated: 18/08/2018 10:57

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