Life, Above All

Life, Above All

2011, PG-13, 100 min. Directed by Oliver Schmitz. Starring Khomotso Manyaka, Keaobaka Makanyane, Lerato Mvelase, Harriet Lenabe, Aubrey Poolo, Tinah Mnumzana.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Sept. 23, 2011

Shame is a powerful motivator. In this South African drama, it's what keeps an increasingly frail woman from getting tested for HIV and what turns her family and neighbors against her. For all the seeming uplift of its title, Life, Above All is a punishing look at a community terrorized first by AIDS, second by groupthink. What makes it bearable but also beautiful and stirring is the central performance by the preteen, first-time actor Khomotso Manyaka. She plays 12-year-old Chanda, a smart, unsentimental kid forced to take on adult responsibilities when her baby sister dies in infancy and her parents fall to pieces.

Death shrouds the inhabitants of the insular township. Chanda's birth father is long dead. Her bossy next door neighbor, Mrs. Tafa, has lost a son. Her best friend Esther (the magnetic, elastic-limbed Makanyane) is an orphan. But AIDS is rarely referred to by name; instead, the citizens speak of "demons," perpetuating a devastating cycle of superstition and misinformation handed down generation to generation. In its third act, Life, Above All takes a bit of a dip into la-la land, in terms of believability – how precisely is an impoverished family supposed to have afforded an ambulance and hospice care? – but that doesn't diminish the emotional impact of Manyaka's performance and the idea that courage can be infectious, too.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Kimberley Jones
Phantom Thread
Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson reunite for one last glamorous yet muscular tale

Jan. 12, 2018

Kimberley Jones’ Top 10 Films of 2017
Kimberley Jones’ Top 10 Films of 2017

Dec. 29, 2017


Life, Above All, Oliver Schmitz, Khomotso Manyaka, Keaobaka Makanyane, Lerato Mvelase, Harriet Lenabe, Aubrey Poolo, Tinah Mnumzana

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle