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Life, Above All Reviews

Page 1 of 3
Matthew S

Super Reviewer

April 20, 2012
"Life, Above All" hit me harder emotionally than any movie I have ever seen. Shame withers the soul, born from an unawareness of why we are who we are. Here, we watch a young girl experience the devastating effects that shame has on all the people she cares about. Nothing good comes from shame. Empathy is the answer. Encouragement is the answer. Education is the answer. What our young heroin does here is the answer.
Harlequin68
Harlequin68

Super Reviewer

January 20, 2013
As young as she is, Chanda(Khomotso Manyaka) is forced to be the adult of the house when her infant sister dies. Her mother(Lerato Mvelase) is obviously emotionally distraught while her stepfather Jonah(Aubrey Poolo) finds comfort in other women and controlled substances. In fact, Chanda has to steal back the money for the funeral from him. At least, she has help from her friend Esther(Keaobaka Makanyane) while Mrs. Tafa(Harriet Lenabe), a neighbor, takes Chanda's two younger siblings(Thato Kgaladi & Mapaseka Mathebe) in to babysit during the funeral. On the other hand, her mother's family is little help at all, just sending one reluctant representative, her Aunt Lizbet(Tinah Mnumzana). In this maelstrom, Chanda even tries to attend school but is informed by her teacher that she can have a couple of days off.

With an extended introduction that has a tenuous link to the rest of the story, "Life, Above All" is an earnest and compelling coming of age movie. At the same time, it also has much to say about the sad state of current healthcare in South Africa, dominated as it is by quacks, past traditions and overwhelmed hospitals, with a special emphasis on AIDS which is treated as a shameful affliction while the true shame is how the disease's victims are treated so badly. At least, Chanda is a beacon of hope for her country's future, considering her intelligence, bravery and compassion.
January 17, 2012
Hope over despair, compassion against fear, the story of Chanda (the unforgettable Khomotso Manyaka).
renategm
January 12, 2012
Even more amazing than it sounds. Based on a beautiful novel, Chanda's Secrets, by Allan Stratton. If you haven't seen this already, please do -- like, yesterday.
July 3, 2014
First of all the acting in this film is simply amazing, this is probably the best "mother / daughter relationship " movie that I have ever seen, made with no money, in THE poorest continent in the world and with superb results, YEAH!!!
Dave J
May 8, 2014
Thursday, May 5, 2014

(2011) Life, Above All
(In South Africa with English subtitles)
DRAMA

At the first few minutes has 12 year old Chanda (Khomotso Manyaka) picking a coffin for her baby sister. We don't know how she had died, except to say that deaths over there are a common occurrence. She later finds out that her worthless step dad stole money so that he can drink more, intentioned for the coffin forcing Chanda to go and take the money back. After burying her baby sister, the movie then dwells on Chanda having to take care of her mother without viewers understanding what she's diagnosed with, with critics I've read, saying that her mother's contracted the aides epidemic. As a result of her mother suffering of something created a rift within her neighbors eager to drive her away. In this movie, we also get to witness, rituals practised if people can't afford medicine, treatment or proper health care. There's also zero criticism about how it's gov't treats it's own people. Many of the things shown on this movie are absolutely nothing new to anyone who keeps up with the news since much of what's shown here are usually shown in documentaries and whatnot. Why watch the movie one may ask, it is to say that nothing's still being done about anything and that children should not have to carry this kind of responsibility when it's the governments job.

2.5 out of 4
May 24, 2013
Saw this movie the other evening on Showtime ...it is a strong commentary on societies that try to ignore social issues?
Jerry R.
April 15, 2013
Oliver Schmitz's Life, Above All is a very touching human drama. It is deeply affective, sad without being maudlin, heartbreaking without feeling phony, and hopeful for all the right reasons. It is a film from South Africa, about Africans, speaking Sotho (a bantu language spoken in South Africa) rather than simply having all the actors speak English. Most refreshingly, this is a film that focuses on women, African woman, not as women who stand behind men or behind White women. These African women are strong, well-drawn and, like the women of The Color Purple, are allowed to occupy the center of their own story.

Based on the award-winning book "Chanda's Secret" by Allan Stratton, Life, Above All focuses on 12 year-old Chanda (Khomotso Manyaka), who is wise beyond her years and far more mature than the elders that surround her. She and her family live in the small community of Elandsdoorn, a South African village on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Life in the village is quiet, and peaceful despite the political unrest and guerrilla warfare just over the horizon. Chanda stands as the strong center of her family, which is coming apart under the weight of grief over the death of her younger sister. Chanda's mother Lillian (Lerato Mvelase) slips into a deep depression and her stepfather Jonah (Aubrey Poolo) chooses to waste himself away in bars and whore houses. Therefore it is left to Chanda to take charge of her mother and two younger siblings.

Chanda's problems begin when her mother becomes ill. The neighbors immediately assume that the illness is caused by AIDS and grow paranoid and suspicious. This child is caring for a woman who has developed a plague soon after her daughter has died and they think it will destroy them all (it never occurs to them that the sickness may have come from Jonah). A friendly neighbor called Auntie Tafa (Harriet Lenabe) tries to help by urging Lillian to leave. But Chanda is too caring and too stubborn to give in.

Chanda is what makes the film work. Played by first time actor Khmotso Manyaka, she is a force to be reckoned with. She is intelligent, undaunted and never stops asking questions. She has a view of the world that peers under the surface to see the truth that is being hidden. She is bold enough to ask tough questions and keep asking even when the adults would simply pat her on the head and send her in the other direction. There is a brilliant moment deep in the film when she takes her mother to a local doctor and focuses on his degrees hanging on the wall. Based on the framed documents - written in English, which the villagers cannot read - it is clear that this man isn't a doctor, merely a man who sells herbal placebos.

Chanda is also willing to take chances. She refuses to move her mother out of the village, despite stern warning and is further bold enough to associate with a school friend who has run off to make money in prostitution and returns with AIDS. Chanda doesn't turn her back on the girl but invites her into the home as a kind of safe haven.

What I like about Life Above All is that it raises a lot of difficult issues about fear and prejudice and does so through the eyes of a girl who is like no young person I have ever met. This isn't a precocious kid but a wise young girl who will, when she grows up, become a great humanitarian, a politician, a doctor, or an activist.

My only reservation is that I am not sure I was completely sold on the ending in which Chanda is threatened by neighbors in the village who are angry over her decision to take people into her home who have AIDS. Their position is that having these people in their midst will curse the village and bring about their doom. The problem is that the movie allows the scene to develop into a passionate speech about tolerance, and the townspeople are sold on this speech. I don't believe that such prejudice can be undone simply by a passionate speech. To one or two people, maybe, but not to a mob of thirty. Still, that limitation aside, this is a very good drama, tightly told and with characters that we come to know and care about.
January 25, 2013
Moving story that emphasizes the impact of AIDS on the family structures of South Africa--taking parents and leaving children caring for the children or no one caring for the children. The film also depicts the crippling social of the disease, that leads those who are ill so afraid to be accused of having the disease that they do not get treatment. A powerful depiction of life in South Africa with a luminous performance by young Khomotso Manyaka.
Harlequin68
Harlequin68

Super Reviewer

January 20, 2013
As young as she is, Chanda(Khomotso Manyaka) is forced to be the adult of the house when her infant sister dies. Her mother(Lerato Mvelase) is obviously emotionally distraught while her stepfather Jonah(Aubrey Poolo) finds comfort in other women and controlled substances. In fact, Chanda has to steal back the money for the funeral from him. At least, she has help from her friend Esther(Keaobaka Makanyane) while Mrs. Tafa(Harriet Lenabe), a neighbor, takes Chanda's two younger siblings(Thato Kgaladi & Mapaseka Mathebe) in to babysit during the funeral. On the other hand, her mother's family is little help at all, just sending one reluctant representative, her Aunt Lizbet(Tinah Mnumzana). In this maelstrom, Chanda even tries to attend school but is informed by her teacher that she can have a couple of days off.

With an extended introduction that has a tenuous link to the rest of the story, "Life, Above All" is an earnest and compelling coming of age movie. At the same time, it also has much to say about the sad state of current healthcare in South Africa, dominated as it is by quacks, past traditions and overwhelmed hospitals, with a special emphasis on AIDS which is treated as a shameful affliction while the true shame is how the disease's victims are treated so badly. At least, Chanda is a beacon of hope for her country's future, considering her intelligence, bravery and compassion.
Jerry R.
August 9, 2012
Oliver Schmitz's Life, Above All is a very touching human drama. It is deeply affective, sad without being maudlin, heartbreaking without feeling phony, and hopeful for all the right reasons. It is a film from South Africa, about Africans, speaking Sotho (a bantu language spoken in South Africa) rather than simply having all the actors speak English. Most refreshingly, this is a film that focuses on women, African woman, not as women who stand behind men or behind White women. These African women are strong, well-drawn and, like the women of The Color Purple, are allowed to occupy the center of their own story.

Based on the award-winning book "Chanda's Secret" by Allan Stratton, Life, Above All focuses on 12 year-old Chanda (Khomotso Manyaka), who is wise beyond her years and far more mature than the elders that surround her. She and her family live in the small community of Elandsdoorn, a South African village on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Life in the village is quiet, and peaceful despite the political unrest and guerrilla warfare just over the horizon. Chanda stands as the strong center of her family, which is coming apart under the weight of grief over the death of her younger sister. Chanda's mother Lillian (Lerato Mvelase) slips into a deep depression and her stepfather Jonah (Aubrey Poolo) chooses to waste himself away in bars and whore houses. Therefore it is left to Chanda to take charge of her mother and two younger siblings.

Chanda's problems begin when her mother becomes ill. The neighbors immediately assume that the illness is caused by AIDS and grow paranoid and suspicious. This child is caring for a woman who has developed a plague soon after her daughter has died and they think it will destroy them all (it never occurs to them that the sickness may have come from Jonah). A friendly neighbor called Auntie Tafa (Harriet Lenabe) tries to help by urging Lillian to leave. But Chanda is too caring and too stubborn to give in.

Chanda is what makes the film work. Played by first time actor Khmotso Manyaka, she is a force to be reckoned with. She is intelligent, undaunted and never stops asking questions. She has a view of the world that peers under the surface to see the truth that is being hidden. She is bold enough to ask tough questions and keep asking even when the adults would simply pat her on the head and send her in the other direction. There is a brilliant moment deep in the film when she takes her mother to a local doctor and focuses on his degrees hanging on the wall. Based on the framed documents - written in English, which the villagers cannot read - it is clear that this man isn't a doctor, merely a man who sells herbal placebos.

Chanda is also willing to take chances. She refuses to move her mother out of the village, despite stern warning and is further bold enough to associate with a school friend who has run off to make money in prostitution and returns with AIDS. Chanda doesn't turn her back on the girl but invites her into the home as a kind of safe haven.

What I like about Life Above All is that it raises a lot of difficult issues about fear and prejudice and does so through the eyes of a girl who is like no young person I have ever met. This isn't a precocious kid but a wise young girl who will, when she grows up, become a great humanitarian, a politician, a doctor, or an activist.

My only reservation is that I am not sure I was completely sold on the ending in which Chanda is threatened by neighbors in the village who are angry over her decision to take people into her home who have AIDS. Their position is that having these people in their midst will curse the village and bring about their doom. The problem is that the movie allows the scene to develop into a passionate speech about tolerance, and the townspeople are sold on this speech. I don't believe that such prejudice can be undone simply by a passionate speech. To one or two people, maybe, but not to a mob of thirty. Still, that limitation aside, this is a very good drama, tightly told and with characters that we come to know and care about.
June 11, 2012
"Life, Above All" is a good movie that is very difficult to watch. Twelve year old Chanda has life's responsibilities thrust upon her at far too young an age. There is little in her life providing joy and much providing upset. If it weren't for the strength of the performance of the young actor portraying Chanda, this movie would be even more sad. Recommended with reservations. (Foreign, sad)
June 5, 2012
Love this movie... A must see
Matthew S

Super Reviewer

April 20, 2012
"Life, Above All" hit me harder emotionally than any movie I have ever seen. Shame withers the soul, born from an unawareness of why we are who we are. Here, we watch a young girl experience the devastating effects that shame has on all the people she cares about. Nothing good comes from shame. Empathy is the answer. Encouragement is the answer. Education is the answer. What our young heroin does here is the answer.
April 14, 2012
Chandra, 12 years old, is growing up too fast in South Africa. Her infant sister has just died and her mother is very ill. Her step-father is fighting his own demons and is of no help. The townspeople's rumors and prejudice that turn her mother into a pariah and forces her to flee leaving Chandra behind to care for her young sister and brother. This movie shows how a young girl uses her character and intelligence to overcome these obstacles and bring dignity and respect to her family and in the process teach a lesson to her village.
February 10, 2012
"Life Above All" is a long, meandering, sad, challenging film to watch. The pace is painfully slow. The story is sorrowful, and based on elements in life in the slums outside of Johannesburg. The acting is so true to life.... the cinematography is all too real. This is a film which will disturb the viewers. In sum, this may not be a film for all audiences.
February 6, 2012
Chandra, played by Khomotso Manyaka, is a fantastic actress.
January 17, 2012
Sometimes good endings are a little out of place, especially in a movie this heavy, but, as I get older, sometimes it is nice, anyway, to have a decent ending. The young actresses in this were excellent.
October 16, 2011
Very realistic, compelling story of growing up poor in South Africa.
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