Opening this week, Life, Above All, a film set in a small South African township, was the closing night feature of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival at Lincoln Center in June. Beautifully shot and wonderfully acted particularly by two young girls who had only the experience of singing in the school choir before being tapped for this project, the film offers a rare glimpse into a community ravaged not only by HIV/AIDS but prejudices that prevent addressing the problem.
Director Oliver Schmitz, a South African now residing in Berlin knows this territory and its social limitations well. In South Africa, HIV/AIDS has the same stigma it held in Greenwich Village in its first blooming in the early '80's, the subject of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, now celebrated in a revival on Broadway. Life, Above All limns this moment in a far-away rural landscape.
Most appealing in the movie is Chandra (Khomotso Manyaka). While it is hard to keep a dry eye for most of the story about an array of characters affected by the disease in loved ones, one part had tears rolling down my face. That occurred when a gossipy neighbor, as much a part of the problem as anyone else in this provincial setting, says to the dying mother, "What a daughter you have," about the strong young girl who courageously refuses to hide the family secret.
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