Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Life, Above All (2010) ****

PG-13, 100 min.
Director: Oliver Schmitz
Writers: Dennis Foon, Allan Straton (novel “Chanda’s Secrets”)
Starring: Khomotso Manyaka, Keaobaka Makanyane, Lerato Mvelase, Harriet Manamela, Aubrey Poolo, Tinah Mnumzana

“Life, Above All” was South Africa’s entry for the Foreign Film Oscar in 2011. I can’t imagine how it didn’t get nominated. It tells the harrowing story of a girl forced to fight to keep her family together after her infant sister dies. Fear, paranoia and prejudice fuel the town in subtly forcing her family apart with unspoken rumors and an unsympathetic misunderstanding of one of the greatest heath threats to ever ravage that so beleaguered country.

As Chanda’s mother descends into sickness after her baby’s death, it becomes clear that both mother and the deceased infant had contracted AIDS from Chanda’s philandering, drunkard stepfather. Under the guise of protecting the family, both friends and family members deliberately undermine the wishes of Chanda and her mother by enforcing lies about what has happened and perpetuating lies about what is to be done about it. Eventually the mother is sent away, with Chanda left to care for her two remaining stepsiblings.

What strikes me most about African filmmaking is how often children are depicted as the voices of reason and sanity in a society where adults seem ruled by their fears of what others might think of them. In many ways, this is the most honest storytelling to be found in most countries. Children perceive the world in the terms upon which they actually witness it, while adults too often project meanings on to things that either aren’t there or perpetuate a negative connotation on something we don’t understand.

In America, children are often portrayed as wiser than adults, but this is not really true. These African child heroes are forced to cope with issues they don’t necessarily understand, but must force an outcome in their favor for purposes of pure survival. Last year’s Best Picture Oscar nominee “Winter’s Bone” is one of the few American made movies that seem to see children forced into adult decisions in a similar way to African like this one. These are important films that hold more value than can normally be found at the movies. 

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