“A South African Film About Despair And Hope Anchored By A Stunning Debut Performance”
Does something that few painful dramas accomplish: It tells a tale of resilience without platitudes about the triumph of the human spirit or without false promises about an unclouded future.
Manohla Dargis - New York Times
"Life, Above All," a deeply moving South African drama about AIDS and ostracism, manages to be, paradoxically, both austere and uplifting.
Michael O'Sullivan - Washington Post
If [its] allegorical underpinnings blur the film's edges, the performances bring it back into focus.
Ty Burr - Boston Globe
Life, Above All suggests that ignorance and stigmatization are a problem only in the village, not in the highest office of government.
Melissa Anderson - Village Voice
The movie stares clear-eyed at a world where any kind of hope seems like a dream.
Joe Neumaier - New York Daily News
This is a modest film, and an affecting one.
Joe Morgenstern - Wall Street Journal
"Life, Above All" earns the tears it inspires. The film is about deep human emotions, evoked with sympathy and love.
Roger Ebert - Chicago Sun-Times
This is a heartening story of resilience told without false uplift. It is hopeful without being mawkish, realistic but not oppressive.
Colin Covert - Minneapolis Star Tribune
Perseverance is the theme of "Life, Above All," a drama that is deeply affecting, if also overwhelmingly bleak.
Randy Cordova - Arizona Republic
A downer that too often resorts to melodrama.
V.A. Musetto - New York Post
A wrenching and powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of a remorseless disease and societal prejudice.
Bruce Demara - Toronto Star
Although loaded with dramatic consequence, "Life, Above All" is slight.
Eric Kohn - indieWIRE
Newcomer Manyaka, who as Chanda carries the family's burdens on her slender shoulders, is compelling -- she always seems to be leaning forward, ready to walk head first into her next battle.
Liam Lacey - Globe and Mail
Bernhard Jasper's cinematography, under Oliver Schmitz's direction, is at once funky and elegant while the scrip... is inspiring without resorting to any cheap sentimentality.
James Adams - Globe and Mail
Nicely splits the difference between ethnographic realism and melodramatic uplift.
Andrew O'Hehir - Salon.com
The director and his splendid cast assure that this tale about a strong little girl fighting to keep her family alive and together has both high art and a big heart, audience appeal and gut impact.
Mary Corliss - TIME Magazine
Manyaka gives the character a gaze so true it could only open hearts and minds.
Sheri Linden - Los Angeles Times
A gripping African drama about a child who has to grow up too fast, who has to keep her family together and alive, and has come to terms with the AIDS stigma that her neighbors place on them.
Art with heart.
James Plath - Movie Metropolis
...there's an undeniable fierceness and intelligence in Manyaka's lead performance. She's far from a polished actor, but there's real steel there.
Philip Martin - Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
The location settings are more compelling than the filmmaking, but the subject matter and the effective presence of young Khomotso Manyaka perhaps make this worth seeking out for those who are sympathetic to its subject matter.
John Beifuss - Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
"Life, Above All" is an incredibly sad movie that never relies on sentimentality, and is as clear-eyed about the story as its forthright young heroine.
Rob Thomas - Capital Times (Madison, WI)
What makes it bearable but also beautiful and stirring is the central performance by the preteen, first-time actor Khomotso Manyaka.
Kimberley Jones - Austin Chronicle
An imperfect attempt at addressing the continued reluctance of sub-Saharan societies to address the HIV plague in their midst.
Marc Mohan - Oregonian
A well-meaning but ploddingly earnest after-school special...
Rene Rodriguez - Miami Herald
Life, Above All is 100 minutes of grief and courage. The film shows how South Africans failed to accept and deal with the reality of AIDS. It's a provocative and depressing plot.
Tony Macklin - tonymacklin.net
Manyaka brings grace and empathy to everything Chanda does, eliciting sympathy and understanding in spite of the movie's own awkwardness.
Josh Bell - Las Vegas Weekly
There are a lot of tears in Life, Above All, and they're all earned.
Matt Pais - RedEye
... more drudgery than enlightenment.
Jim Lane - Sacramento News & Review
There is less in-your-face grit in Cape Town-born director Oliver Schmitz's vision for this film than there is a careful pacing of somber revelations.
Tom Keogh - Seattle Times
Manyaka's performance is jaw dropping, entirely earning the neat little bow that the movie seems determined to put on top of her mission.
Justin Strout - Orlando Weekly
Story about a South African girl struggling against AIDS stigma feels too rational and distant.
Sarah Sluis - Film Journal International
In such a bleak story, the redemptive ending seems rushed and unconvincing, but director Oliver Schmitz has sent us a timely dispatch from a forgotten corner of the world that is honest above all.
Joe Williams - St. Louis Post-Dispatch
There are so many things I like about Life, Above All that I'm willing to forgive its minor flaws...
Sarah Boslaugh - Playback:stl
This is most definitely a femme film but is also world class filmmaking.
Robin Clifford - Reeling Reviews
It feels like a peek into another world.
Chris Hewitt (St. Paul) - St. Paul Pioneer Press
A grave, quietly moving coming-of-age tale of a young girl raised in a village where many (her infant sister, in this case) are robbed of the opportunity to come of age at all...
Alexandra Cavallo - Boston Phoenix
...the film should be a Mother's Day standard...
Laura Clifford - Reeling Reviews
Though one wishes it could have addressed the subject without resorting to what amounts to melodrama, young Manyaka's compelling performance makes it worth seeing.
Frank Swietek - One Guy's Opinion
Built for obvious uplift, but Schmitz, a South African-born filmmaker of German descent, has a unique sort of insider's outside view, one might say, that keeps the movie from tipping over into the maudlin or contrived.
Brent Simon - Shockya.com
It has its heart in the right place, but it quickly begins to bleed at the edges, and soon these edges come to dominate the film's core.
Ilya Tovbis - Slant Magazine
Thoughtful [and] emotionally resonant.
Pam Grady - Boxoffice Magazine
"Life, Above All" puts the audience in the heart of complex social issues on a grassroots level. Here is a film you can see out of as well as into.
Cole Smithey - ColeSmithey.com
The fluidity of Schmitz's technique reflects a world in which tragedy and uplift are inextricably commingled.
Peter Rainer - Christian Science Monitor
One of the year's most striking and memorable performances is given by a 12-year-old girl who never set foot in front of a camera before she was chosen to play the leading role in Life, Above All. This moving adaptation of Allan Stratton's...
Leonard Maltin - Leonard Maltin's Picks
The script groans beneath a mass of symbolic winking and declamatory exposition that has the unfortunate effect of turning the villagers into credulous simpletons, ready to blow with any wind that carries them.
Ella Taylor - NPR
Life, Above All is beautifully filmed and carried by the performance of Khomotso Manyaka as Chanda.
Liz Braun - Jam! Movies
[T]he young stars are so emotionally mature. . . almost too extraordinarily resourceful and heroic in managing family crises and facing death [but] inspire adults.
Nora Lee Mandel - Film-Forward.com
Profoundly moving, unflinching, inspirational and eye-opening. It boasts a brave, genuinely heartfelt performance by newcomer Khomotso Manyaka.
Avi Offer - NYC Movie Guru
That tragedy is the real point of "Life, After All." And if the film makes people think about that problem, that's a good thing.
Stephen Whitty - Newark Star-Ledger
In straining to make this a borderless story of toxic prejudice, Schmitz lost sight of the specificity that could have made it more powerfully universal.
Michelle Orange - Movieline
Life, Above All is something of a blunt instrument, but that doesn't minimize its crushing impact -- this fictional story of the prejudice faced by AIDS-infected people in rural South Africa could wring tears from a stone.
Alison Willmore - AV Club
The performances in Life, Above All give it its power, rather than its after-school-special plotting.
Marshall Fine - Hollywood & Fine
The film is built in such a way that its dynamic cast simply eases us toward the most obvious destination.
Joshua Rothkopf - Time Out
A convincing portrayal of the tragic plight of the HIV+ poor in South Africa.
Kam Williams - NewsBlaze
A South African film about despair and hope anchored by a stunning debut performance.
Harvey S. Karten - Compuserve
The engrossing story of the heroism and compassion of a 12-year-old South African who demonstrates selfless love in caring for her very ill mother.
Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat - Spirituality and Practice
[A] moving, quietly angry drama about a resilient schoolgirl trying to hold her family together in the face of vicious rumours and violence.
Alistair Harkness - Scotsman
Rich HD cinematography, the vivid sense of community and the dramatic focus on its young heroine all stop proceedings becoming weighted down by social issues.
Tom Dawson - Total Film
At the centre of this plain, extremely touching film is a heart-rending performance from Khomotso Manyaka...
Manyaka is tremendous in the lead role.
Anthony Quinn - Independent
Schmitz shoots the kids with dreamy respect. The adult actors have less to work with. Still, their agonised faces, not to mention their voices, create their own kind of texture and ensure we leave the cinema in tears.
Charlotte O'Sullivan - This is London
Hypocrisy, ignorance and fear are seen with almost unbearable clarity through the eyes of a South African girl in this unflinching study of Aids stigma.
With a lighter touch, Life, Above All could have been the redemptive and insightful experience it so desperately yearns to be.
Matt Bochenski - Little White Lies
The subject matter is undeniably grim, but there's hope and forgiveness at the heart of this South Africa-set drama.
Lucy Barrick - Radio Times
Explores African life and culture with honesty, emotion and hope. And it's almost overpoweringly involving due to an amazing central performance
Rich Cline - Shadows on the Wall
Beautifully shot and superbly written, this is a powerfully emotional drama with a terrific central performance from newcomer Khomotso Manyaka.
Matthew Turner - ViewLondon
Well acted (especially by Mariyake), well directed, and honourably focused on a subject we care about and should continue to.
Nigel Andrews - Financial Times
'Life, Above All' is an inside-out portrait of a particular world, whose brutal, dark and unforgiving qualities are reflected in the film's scrubbed-away colours and shadowy interiors.
Dave Calhoun - Time Out
A tough but very rewarding watch.
Anna Smith - Empire Magazine
If you allow it to, it'll break your heart.
Robbie Collin - News of the World
- NOW Toronto