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Life, Above All

A well-acted coming-of-age drama set in South Africa

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The hero of this South African drama is Chanda, an adolescent girl whom we meet in mourning for her infant sister. With men largely absent from her life, Chanda negotiates poverty with a sick mother whose illness, AIDS, reveals their village as a miasma of gossip and superstition. Also an outcast is Chanda's loyal friend Esther, a homeless child whose only means of survival is prostitution. Life, Above All, adapted from Allan Stratton's novel Chanda's Secrets, is well told by director Oliver Schmitz and beautifully shot with sensitive hand-held cameras. But its chief asset is Khomotso Manyaka, the first-time actress who plays Chanda. Utterly credible in a wrenching role, Manyaka pulls us through what otherwise might have seemed a well-made Lesson Movie. It's that, too, but Manyaka's performance (comparable to Jennifer Lawrence's in the not-dissimilar Winter's Bone) ensures that you're emotionally engaged even as you're learning. In Sotho, with English subtitles. Starts Fri., Sept. 9. Harris Theater 

 

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