Silence Equals Death in "Life Above All" | New in Film | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

Film & TV

Silence Equals Death in "Life Above All"

"AIDS" isn't uttered until well past the halfway mark of Oliver Schmitz's problematic South Africa-based tale about the fear, gossip, and superstition surrounding the illness in a township 125 miles outside Johannesburg. Bright, stoic 12-year-old Chanda (affecting newcomer Khomotso Manyaka) puts her studies on hold to handle one unbearable situation after another: her infant sister's death, her stepfather's drunken madness, her orphaned best friend's truck-stop prostitution, her mother's gradual withering away. The disease that dare not speak its name has an endless supply of strained euphemisms — "influenza," "this other thing," "the bug" — and is treated by witchcraft or by the quack in town who dispenses herbal supplements. Based on Canadian writer Allan Stratton's 2004 young-adult novel Chanda's Secrets (which is set in an unnamed sub-Saharan African country), Schmitz's film, adapted by Dennis Foon, importantly functions as a reminder that silence equals death. But the well-intentioned project, from a director born to German immigrants in Cape Town in 1960, has the feeling of being made by a patronizing outsider — one who wants to assure his audience that they're incapable of the backward thinking of his characters. Schmitz never states exactly when Life, Above All is set, but the movie suggests that ignorance and stigmatization are a problem only in the village, not in the highest office of government. (Rated PG-13)

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Melissa Anderson is the senior film critic at the Village Voice, for which she first began writing in 2000. Her work also appears in the publications of the Voice’s film partner, Voice Media Group: LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.

Latest Stories