Directed by: Oliver Schmitz
Starring: Khomotso Manyaka, Keaobaka Makanyane, Lerato Mvelase, Harriet Manamela, Aubrey Poolo
Although its final act wafts over into the realm of the slightly fantastic on a couple of unexplained and improbable plot points, Oliver Schmitz’s Love, Above All is a powerful and emotionally compelling work. The film traces the story of Chanda (Khomotso Manyaka), a young girl living with her mother, Lillian (Lerato Mvelase), and younger brother and sister in what can best be described—in relative terms—as a step above outright poverty in rural South Africa. As the film opens she is involved—at an unseemly young age—in making the arrangements (the bargain arrangements, it should be added) for a funeral for her youngest sibling. Her father is absent and her mother’s subsequent husband, Jonah (Aubrey Poolo), has disappeared. Life is hard, and is only going to get harder. Which it does: The only positive things come from Chanda’s own resourceful resilience, her friendship with another girl, Esther (Keaobaka Makanyane), and the occasional—sometimes grudging—help of the relatively affluent Mrs. Tafa (Harriet Manamela), who functions as something of the community’s leader.
What the film is ultimately about—though the actual term is not even mentioned until more than an hour of the film’s running time has passed—is the stigma, ignorance of and superstitions about AIDS. As it turns out, both the absent Jonah and Lillian have it—and Esther (already dismissed by Chanda’s relatives as not being an “appropriate” friend) is suspected of having it. When Jonah is brought back by the woman he’s been living with, he’s in the advanced stages of the disease and treated like a leper. Lillian—after visits to a quack herbologist and a kind of medicine woman—is sent back to her village for the “curse” to be lifted from her. The sole voice of reason in all this is Chanda who opts to take matters into her own hands with interesting—if a little bit simplistic—results.
While it isn’t by any means a great film, it’s a strong statement on the ignorance and prejudice surrounding AIDS. It’s also a surprisingly involving and moving film—and one that ought to be seen.