Life, Above All (Le secret de Chanda)


Determination mixed with sadness.

Determination mixed with sadness.

(2010) Drama (Sony Classics) Khomotso Manyaka, Keaobaka Makanyane, Harriet Manamela, Lerato Mvelase, Tinah Mnumzana, Aubrey Poolo, Mapaseka Mathebe, Thato Kgaladi, Kgomotso Ditshweni, Rami Chuene, Jerry Marobyane, Tshepo Emmanuel Nonyane, Johanna Refilwe Sihlangu, Vusi Muzi Given Nyathi, Patrick Shai, Nelson Motloung, Ernest Mokoena, Mary Twala. Directed by Oliver Schmitz

Here in America, AIDS isn’t the same issue it used to be. Advancements in pharmaceuticals and care have given many their lives. It’s a different story in other places

Chanda (Manyaka) is a bright 12-year-old girl in the Elandsdoorn township near Johannesburg, South Africa but this day she is far from happy – she’s picking out a coffin for her baby sister. Her mother is too overcome with grief to do it and her father is too busy drinking and hanging out with floozies to do it. Not long after the funeral, her mother (Mvelase) takes ill and is sent away.

This leaves Chanda with younger sisters who basically don’t want anything to do with her and a sympathetic neighbor Mrs. Tafa (Manamela) keeping an eye on them. Chanda’s best friend Esther (Makanyane) has taken to prostituting herself to truck drivers in order to survive – she has been orphaned as both her parents passed away from AIDS.

Meanwhile in the township rumors are starting to circulate and whispers that Chanda is cursed – sickness seems to revolve in the air around her. Chanda needs answers and the only person who can supply them is her mother, so she sets off to find her. But be careful what questions you ask – you might not like the answers.

This is a searing, emotionally powerful movie that takes on AIDS and the way that sufferers of the disease are treating in Africa. There are those who ostracize and stigmatize the victims, as if they were to blame forĀ  their illness. Chanda’s situation isn’t uncommon in South Africa – in Africa in general in fact.

Manyaka delivers an amazingly intuitive performance; as you can see above, her eyes are incredibly expressive and she fills the character of Chanda with plenty of energy and strength. Chanda as written is an impressive girl but I think Manyaka might just be as impressive. You don’t accomplish this kind of performance without real soul.

This isn’t always a pretty picture. There is some ugliness to how the villagers react and of course the situation is pretty grim in and of itself. The thought of 12 year old girls giving truckers blow jobs is absolutely outrageous to me, and yet it is a way of life for girls in that part of the world.

The ending is pretty upbeat despite the overwhelming despair that you would think is part of everyday life in Elandsdoorn (which is actually a pretty middle class suburb in many ways). The title can be interpreted in a few different ways (and is a bit of a clue to the denouement if you think about it) but for the girls in this movie, you can’t help but admire the strength of the African women here. It is a strength that seems to be part of their genetic make-up and it is nice to see it portrayed so positively even given the bleakness of the subject matter.

WHY RENT THIS: Astounding performances by the mainly local and inexperienced cast. Calls attention to the continuing stigmatization of AIDS victims.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Improbable ending.

FAMILY VALUES: The themes here are very adult in nature; there is also a bit of sexuality in the mix.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Canadian Dennis Foon adapted the screenplay from Allan Stratton’s novel Chanda’s Secrets.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $134,461 (domestic) on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Hunt

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Closed Circuit

New Releases for the Week of September 23, 2011


Dolphin Tale

DOLPHIN TALE

(Warner Brothers) Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Nathan Gamble, Morgan Freeman, Austin Stowell, Cozi Zuehlsdoff. Directed by Charles Martin Smith

The incredible true story of Winter, a dolphin who as a juvenile had her tail caught in a crab trap, forcing it to be amputated. Brought to a Florida aquarium, things looked bleak for the young cetacean until a brilliant orthopedist came up with an idea for a prosthetic tail. While the story here is highly fictionalized, it still stars the real Winter as herself.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: True Life Drama Family

Rating: PG (for some mild thematic elements)

Abduction

(Lionsgate) Taylor Lautner, Sigourney Weaver, Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs. A young man discovers that his parents aren’t really his parents and that government agencies are after him. He will have to discover who he is and why the government wants him before they catch up to him. To do so he will have to decide who he can trust – and who he can’t.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for sequences of intense violence and action, brief language, some sexual content and teen partying)

Killer Elite

(Open Road) Jason Statham, Clive Owens, Robert De Niro, Dominic Purcell. A former elite operative comes out of retirement to rescue his mentor, who has been captured by a ruthless gang of assassins. In order to succeed, the operative is going to go up against some of the most vicious killers in the world. This is supposedly based on a true story.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Thriller

Rating: R (for strong violence, language and some sexuality/nudity)

Life, Above All

(Sony Classics) Khomotso Manyaka, Keaobaka Makanyane, Harriet Lenabe, Audrey Poolo. A young girl in a sleepy South African village comes under the suspicion of her neighbors when in rapid succession her baby sister dies tragically and her mother becomes gravely ill. Despite the attempts of her Auntie to shield her from the town’s mistrust, she soon becomes embroiled in a rapidly escalating situation. Her bright future is rapidly disintegrating and she will have to use every ounce of her strong will to survive.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material and some sexual content)

Moneyball

(Columbia) Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright. The true story of Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland As. His revolutionary ideas of evaluating baseball players changed the game forever. Sounds boring, but it’s actually a pretty amazing story of a ballclub that couldn’t afford to compete with teams in larger markets that suddenly became a contender.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Sports

Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language)

Red State

(Smodcast) Michel Angarano, Kyle Gallner, John Goodman, Melissa Leo. Three teenage boys are lured into a small town with the promise of a party. What they find instead of fun is a fundamentalist compound, whose preacher-leader wants to punish them for their sins big time. To make matters worse, they’re about to get caught in the crossfire of an FBI raid. This is the latest – and possibly last – from cult director Kevin Smith.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong violence/disturbing content, some sexual content including brief nudity, and pervasive language)

Senna

(Producers Distribution Agency) Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Jackie Stewart, Frank Williams. Charismatic Formula 1 racer Ayrton Senna was a rock star in his own time. His meteoric rise through the ranks of drivers made him one of the greatest ever. His attempts to make the sport safer made him a visionary. His untimely death made him a legend. While Americans are more partial to NASCAR than they are to Grand Prix, his story makes for compelling viewing.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language and disturbing images)