Life, Above All
Director Oliver Schmitz succeeds in making this more than just another 'issues movie'
Set in the South African township of Elandsdoorn outside Johannesburg, this forceful coming-of-age drama concerns a 12-year-old girl, Chanda, (Khomotso Manyaka), whom we first meet helping arrange the funeral of her baby sister. Her drunken father Jonah (Aubrey Poolo) has cleared out of the house and the condition of her HIV-positive mother Lillian (Lerato Mvelase) is fast deteriorating. The God-fearing locals, who believe that AIDS is a form of divine punishment, however, increasingly ostracize Chanda’s family.
In adapting Allan Stratton’s novel Chanda’s Secrets, director Oliver Schmitz and screenwriter Dennis Foon ensure that Life, Above All doesn’t become an earnest ‘issues’ film. Impressively shot on HD video, it conveys a vivid sense of a community, while ensuring the focus remains on Chanda’s own experiences: important here is her loyal friendship with another stigmatised figure, the child prostitute Esther (Keaobaka Makanyane). The non-professional Manyaka is outstanding in the lead role of the truth-seeking girl, who boldly dares to confront the bigotry of the adult world, and the stirring resolution feels hard earned rather than manufactured.
Selected release from Fri 27 May.