'Life, Above All' (PG-13)

A well-meaning but ploddingly earnest after-school special, Life, Above All centers on 12-year-old Chanda (newcomer Khomotso Manyaka), an African girl living in a small village near Johannesburg. Chanda has already lost her newborn sister to influenza, her father to AIDS, and now her mother has fallen ill. While her best friend Esther (Keaobaka Makanyane) resorts to prostitution out of economic desperation, stoking the community’s hyperactive rumor mill, Chanda tries to help her fading mom, who seems more worried about what the neighbors think than about her health.

South African director Olive Schmitz based Life, Above All on Allan Stratton’s novel, Chanda’s Secrets, and has drawn strong performances from his cast, particularly the young best friends whose bond is tested over the course of the film. But the movie tends to lapse into soapy melodrama and heavy-handed preaching whenever possible, and the feel-good ending that appears out of nowhere essentially negates a lot of what has preceded it, adding one more moral to a movie already weighed down by life lessons.

Cast: Khomotso Manyaka, Keaobaka Makanyane, Harriet Manamela, Lerato Mvelase, Tinah Mnumzana.

Director: Oliver Schmitz.

Screenwriter: Dennis Foon. Based on the novel by Allan Stratton.

Producer: Oliver Stoltz.

A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 100 minutes. Adult themes. In English and Pedi with English subtitles. Opens Sept. 16 in Miami-Dade: South Beach; in Palm Beach: Shadowood, Delray.


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