Life, Above All
Director Oliver Schmitz deploys a grainy neo-realist style in balancing this powerful drama about the plight of a 12-year-old girl in the dusty South African town of Elandsdoorn. Allan Stratton's book "Chandra's Secrets" provides narrative grist that Schmitz and screenwriter Dennis Foon shape into cinematic form. Khomotso Manyaka gives a persuasive performance as the fiercely engaged protagonist Chanda. The death of Chanda's baby sister weakens her sick mother Lillian's already tenuous relationship with Chanda's adulterous, alcoholic stepfather Johan (Aubrey Poolo). Lillian's condition worsens. A visit to a highly regarded local physician reveals Chanda's observant eye when she recognizes the doctor's prominently displayed awards as coming from the same pharmaceutical company. Chanda isn't one to bite her tongue.
"Life, Above All" strikes at the heart of internal and external social problems which strangle rural South African communities. The AIDS epidemic stamps a scarlet letter on its victims in a terrified culture unwilling to address the issue in a mature way. Chanda's clear-eyed humanity acts as a balm in a place where life is cheap. "Life, Above All" puts the audience in the heart of complex social issues on a grassroots level. Here is a film you can see out of as well as into.
Rated PG-13. 106 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)