Life, Above All: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 27, 2011 by  

A film about hope, when it feels as if hope is gone.  “Life, Above All” is a film that showcases how South African families were affected by the AIDS/HIV epidemic and how young children would have to shoulder the burden of a sick parent.  Featuring a wonderful performance by people who have never acted before, especially Khomotso Manyaka, a young actress who brought realism to the main protagonist Chanda.  “Life, Above All” is definitely recommended!

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TITLE: Life, Above All: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack


DURATION: 106 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Defiition (widescreen 2:35:1), Northern Sotho 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English SDH and French

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG-13 (For Mature Thematic Material and Some Sexual Content)

Release Date: December 6, 2011

Directed by Oliver Schmitz

Screenplay by Dennis Foon

Novel be Allan Stratton

Produced by Oliver Stoltz

Co-Produced by Greig Buckle, Thomas Reisser

Executive PRoducer: Helge Sasse

Line Producer: Martin Hamer

Associate Producer: Daniel Ramin

Music by Ali N. Askin, Ian Osrin

Cinematography by Bernhard Jasper

Edited by Dirk Grau

Casting by Moonyeenn Lee

Art Direction by Tracy Perkins, Christiane Rothe

Set Decoration by Jean-Jacques Chaboissier, Nazo Maloy, Aime Motomola

Costume Design by Nadia Kruger


Khomotso Manyaka as Chanda

Keaobaka Makanyane as Ether

Lerato Mvelase as Lillian

Harriet Lenabe as Mrs. Tafa

Aubrey Poolo as Jonah

Tinah Mnumzana as Aunt Lizbet

Mapaseka Mathebe as Iris

Thato Kgaladi as Soly

Kgomotso Ditshweni as Dudu

Rami Chuene as Aunty Ruth

Jerry Marobyane as Mr. Pheto

Tshepo Emmanuel Nonyane as Mr. Lesole

Johanna Refilwe Sihlangu as Mrs. Lesole

Vusi Muzi Given Nyathi as Mr. Nylo

Just after the death of her newly-born sister, Chanda, 12 years old, learns of a rumor that spreads like wildfire through her small, dust-ridden village near Johannesburg. It destroys her family and forces her mother to flee. Sensing that the gossip stems from prejudice and superstition, Chanda leaves home and school in search of her mother and the truth.Directed by Oliver Schmitz (Paris, Je T’Aime) and based on the award-winning novel “Chanda’s Secrets” by Allan Stratton.

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.

The film revolves around a young teenage girl named Chanda (played by Khomotso Manyaka), a smart girl who loves school and is also caring towards her mother Lillian (played by Lerato Mvelase).  The story begins as her mother is sick in bed, mourning the death of Sarah, Chanda’s baby sister who did not live that long.    Chanda’s stepfather Jonah (played by Aubrey Poolo) left home and hasn’t return and Chanda has been skipping school in order to take care of her mother and her young stepsister Iris (played by Mapaseka Mathebe) and stepbrother Soly (played by Thato Kgaladi).

Meanwhile, the family does get some help from their neighbor Mrs. Tafa (played by Harriet Lenabe), a single mother who’s son was killed in an accident.

As Chanda’s Aunt Lizbet (played by Tinah Mnumzana) is the only family that has come to baby Sarah’s funeral, a drunken Jonah returns.  Jonah blames Lillian for the death of Sarah and after the funeral, when Aunt Lizbet is to leave and go home, she tells Lillian that she has disgraced the family and now because of what she has done in the past, her baby daughter is dead.

When Chanda asks her mother what her aunt meant, all Lillian can tell her daughter is that she was arranged to marry another man but met her father, a good man who passed away.

When the two return home, the realize that Jonah has took the family money and has left home once again.

Meanwhile, with all the problems that are going on in Chanda’s family’s life, she has maintained her friendship with Esther (played by Keaobaka Makanyane), a young teenager who’s parents have died and now she has nowhere to live.  So, Esther has become a prostitute in order to make money.  At first Chanda doesn’t believe it but when she sees her doing it, she is a bit upset that her best friend has become a whore.

Concerned that a good and smart girl like Chanda can be poisoned by her association with Esther, her mother and even Mrs. Tafa tell Chanda to stop hanging around Esther.

Meanwhile, Chanda’s mother continues to get sick and notices problems in her feet and leg.  With the help of Mrs. Tafa, they try to get Lillian some help but because of the cost, are unable to.  So, Mrs. Tafa brings in a fortune teller who tells Lillian that in order to rid of the evil from her body, she must go back home and deal with the person who took that part of her life away from her.

But for Chanda, she suspects that it’s not bad spirits that is hurting her mother, but that her stepfather Jonah and her mom have AIDS.  As her mother leaves to go back home, Chanda must now take care of the house and her two younger siblings.

As time passes, Chanda’s mother can’t be contacted, her siblings are not listening to her and she is unable to go to school and take her exams.  To add to the problems in Chanda’s life, she discover’s a beaten Esther who was raped by a man who said she has AIDS.

With life becoming complicated, how will Chanda deal with her mounting problems and what happens when she is unable to get in contact with her mother?


“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!


“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.


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