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Sunday, May 29, 2011

219. Life Above All



    Everyfilmin2011 has made me truly evangelical about African film-making.
    And Life Above All shows why. It is surely one of the most powerful movies about Aids ever made.
    In particular, the role portrayed by 13-year-old Khomotso Manyaka is one of the most heartrending of any I have seen this year.
    Manyaka plays Chanda, a 12-year-old who we first meet arranging for the funeral of her baby sister.
    Her mother is at home still cradling her dead child while her feckless step-father has stolen the money for a coffin for booze.
    From then on, Manyaka is in virtually every shot as Chanda desperately tries to hold her family together as her mother (Lerato Mvelase) becomes increasingly sick.
    Meanwhile, the already bright girl is trying to continue her education.
    Whilst there is a clear Aids awareness message going on here, the intriguing point is that the word itself is only used once.
    I am very aware of the huge scale of the Aids issue in South Africa but I was completely ignorant of the stigma the disease still holds.
    In this village scene, it provokes shame and fear to such an extent that its victims are ostracised.
    Thus, every time someone is ill or dies, another reason is given for their passing.
    The problems of modern-day South Africa, often dismissed in the outside world because we are all so smitten with its 'success' since the end of Apartheid, are laid bare in Life After All.
    Education, the health service, poverty and even child prostitution are all under the microscope as well as the Aids epidemic.
    There is hope, personified by Chanda's unbroken spirit, but it is not hope Hollywood-style. This is hope tinged with a heavy dose of realism.
    Mvelase is excellent as Chanda's mother as is her hard-faced neighbour, played by Harriet Lenabe.
    But it is the children who will live long in the memory. As well as the outstanding Manyaka, there is stunning support from Keaobaka Makanyane who plays her best friend and Mapaseka Mathebe as her young sister.
    There is never any doubt that the film is about South Africa's future and that is why the children needed to be believable. My goodness, they were.
    Director Oliver Schmitz is a white South African but he wisely made this black-only movie in Sotho, one of the many languages spoken in the country.
    He has a brilliant feel for his subject matter and no scene is overly melodramatic.
    So, after this eulogy, what mark does it receive? You know what? I'm going for 9/10 and a place in this year's top 10 movies so far. Go watch it.

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219. Life Above All


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