From South American director Oliver Schmitz and screenwriter Dennis Foon comes a film adaptation of Allan Stratton's 2004 novel "Chanda's Secrets".
The film highlights the ongoing problem of AIDS in South Africa and how neighbors condemn neighbors who have it, how far families go to hide the truth of a family member who has it but also the problem of how many children are left to run a household and take care of younger siblings as their parent is sick or dying of the disease.
"Life, Above All" was screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and was selected as the South African entry for "Best Foreign Language Film" for the 83rd Academy Awards. And now "Life, Above All" will be released on Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack from Sony Pictures Classics.
"Life, Above All" is presented in 1080p High Definition (widescreen 2:35:1). Picture quality is fantastic as there is a lot of detail in this film. First, the colors are warm and vibrant! Close-up shots of the character reveals the pores on the skin of the characters to seeing the detail in the homes from old paint to the dirty shack where Esther was living. There is plenty of detail and the colors of the film really stood out!
Colors are vibrant, black levels are nice and deep and for the most part, clarity and detail are very impressive with "Life, Above All". Also, the cinematography (especially when Chanda goes to look for her mother) by Bernhard Jasper ("Open Water 2: Adrift", "Kiss Me Kismet") is beautiful!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
"Life, Above All" is presented in Northern Sotho 5.1 DTS-HD MA. The dialogue is primarily center and front channel driven. I noticed that the music by Alli N. Askin and Ian Osrin occasionally makes it out to the surround channels but for the most part, the film is center and front channel and only when you see crowds or hear a vehicle pass nearby is when you hear those ambient sounds through the surround channels. But the lossless soundtrack is crystal clear, not very immersive but for a film of this caliber, you don't expect to hear immersive sound. If anything, the soundtrack is appropriate.
Subtitles are in English SDH and French.
"Life, Above All" comes with the following special features:
The Making of Life, Above All - (14:09) Featuring interviews with the crew and cast of "Life, Above All" and filming in the small village in South Africa and using talent who are locals that have never had any acting experience. Also, the challenges of shooting with the different weather conditions.
Theatrical Trailer - Featuring the original theatrical trailer to "Life, Above All".
"Life, Above All" comes with a DVD version of the film.
"Life, Above All" is a film that is about the human drama and a film that captures a realistic situation that people are living with in South Africa.
According to AVERT, the AIDS epidemic has increased South Africa's mortality rates. But the AIDS epidemic has had an impact on children and families as the children shoulder the impact financially and emotionally of the death of a parent(s) due to AIDS and HIV.
And unfortunately, due to the AIDS policy of the former president Thabo Mbeki's government, the government were directly responsible for a third of a million people who died in South Africa of HIV/AIDS, according to research done by Harvard University. Mbeki believed that AIDS was caused by a virus brought on by poverty and the solution was not medicine but the alleviation of poverty in Africa. Because he believed in this, South Africa would not benefit from free drugs or grants to help those who were sick with HIV/AIDS. A pharmaceutical company offered to donate a drug to South Africa to prevent the transmission of HIV from a mother to their child during labor but the government restricted the use of the drug until December 2002.
With "Life, Above All", the film gives us a glimpse into how the epidemic has affected people in South Africa. From neighbors condemning and not wanting anyone with AIDS to be in their hometown and also how children end up having to take care of the household and as the character of Esther is an example of the many young women who must become a prostitute in order to make income.
But also in the case of Lillian and the death of their baby Sarah, the death of the baby was because the child was HIV-infected. While the film doesn't get polemic on the decisions that were made by South Africa's government, because people were not educated on AIDS as seen in the film, Lillian's husband believed that his wife poisoned the child through her milk. And with traditional beliefs held by some people in South Africa, the troubles she caused has brought evil to her family and because of that, her child has died.
So, this film is indeed a sad portrait of possibly a time back then when people were less educated but also a time when these unnecessary deaths could have been prevented.
But looking back at "Life, Above All", what is most amazing about this drama is how the the main talent of this film were able to do a fantastic job without having any acting experience. The young Khomotso Manyaka who plays Chanda does a fantastic job and each time she is onscreen, she manages to play her role as if she was Chanda. The fear in her eyes, the concern towards her mother and everything is captured onscreen quite wonderfully.
Also the women of the film, Lerato Mvelase as Lillian and Harriet Lenabe as Mrs. Tafa also pull-in a commanding performance as we see through these characters a grasping of straws of trying to survive while facing financial burden, Mrs. Tafa silently doing what she can do have her good friend gone from the neighborhood (as rumors continue to grow about Lillian's illness).
If anything, the efficacy of this film is due to the patience of director Oliver Schmitz who made sure he got what he wanted from the new talent. And it helps when you get the right people to play their respective part. The casting of Khomotso Manyaka as Chanda and casting the two women, along with the young Keaobaka Makanyane (Esther)...it was a grand slam for casting in my opinion!
While we know that South Africa (and many other countries) have problems with the AIDS epidemic, "Life, Above All" is a film not about death but about hope. Possibly hope that this film will contribute to educating many about knowing the facts of AIDS instead of ignorance and wanting to hurt the families who are dealing with this deadly disease. Instead of throwing stones, if you are a God loving society, why not just pray for those who are sick.