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Life, Above All
Genre Drama

Life, Above All is a universal story about the intricate relationship between mother and daughter. Set in modern day South Africa, Oliver Schmitz has composed a drama that is emotionally taut, compelling for its heartfelt performances, important for its social commentary and beautiful for its cinematography. At the crux of Life, Above All is Chanda, our young protagonist, played by Khomotso Manyaka. The film depends on Manyaka's performance and she persuades us to journey with her as we learn of her big heart and challenging circumstances.

Her alcoholic stepfather is a sore point... scorned by the watchful community of neighbours and passed on like an unwanted gift. Her mother has contracted HIV and no treatment or miracle cure seems to be changing the fact that she's dying from AIDS. Poor Chanda is basically abandoned by her parents, left to run the household including her young brother and sister under the auspices of Mrs. Tafa. The young teenage girl has a lot to contend with in a rather dire situation with her mother's worsening health and the future of her siblings to manage, as well as her own. Mrs. Tafa, a family friend and neighbour, is battling with her own convictions about Chanda's mother and how to respond to a parent-less home.

It's Chanda's determination, loyalty and loving spirit that counterbalances what would be a depressing film. Alan Stratton's novel touches on social issues in South Africa, which have been relayed in Live, Above All like ticking a series of check boxes to make it socially significant. The awareness factor is considerable, although the only real hope that we can ascribe is from our protagonist... who, despite being up against a brick wall is willful enough to overcome her opposition.

Manyaka's performance is outstanding, showing amazing maturity for such a young actress. She's supported by an ensemble including the seasoned Harriet Lenabe (Hotel Rwanda) as Mrs. Tafa, introducing Lerato Mvelase as Lillian and Keaobaka Makanyane as Esther. The film is something of a companion piece to Themba, another beautiful film about a young boy realising his dreams. While more melancholic, both films have a similar focus on social issues with the next generation learning to fight for their futures.

Both coming-of-age dramas are beautifully filmed portraying uplifting, yet heartbreaking stories. Life, Above All starts off a little slowly, but once the characters have been introduced... an emotional resonance is established with the audience. We admire and pity Chanda. Her resolve, intelligence and determination is worthy of praise, how she keeps soldiering on to keep hope alive. Then we empathize with her for having to deal with situations most teenage girls will never experience. Sacrificing her school time for her family, only to catch up on homework after hours makes her devotion to her family inspiring.

Life, Above All is a poignant social commentary, a beautifully filmed coming-of-age drama that shows the beauty and ugliness of humanity with a terrific lead performance from Khomotso Manyaka, amid a solid ensemble. The film is important in creating awareness of issues on an international platform, which while universal, home in on Mama Africa. Life, Above All is touching and quietly optimistic, showing a way forward no matter what life seems to throw at us.

The bottom line: Heartfelt.

8.50/10 ( 2 Votes )
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