Generally favorable reviews - based on 26 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 17 out of 26
  2. Negative: 1 out of 26
  1. Reviewed by: Roger Ebert
    Aug 31, 2011
    The film's ending is improbably upbeat: Magic realism, in a sense. It works as a deliverance. Dennis Foon's screenplay is based on the novel "Chanda's Secrets" by Canadian writer Allan Stratton. It is a parable with Biblical undertones, recalling "Cry, the Beloved Country."
  2. Reviewed by: J.R. Jones
    Sep 1, 2011
    Director Oliver Schmitz is particularly attentive to the superstition and ingrained sexism that make life miserable for these people, though he also seems to view women as the country's best hope.
  3. Reviewed by: Randy Cordova
    Aug 25, 2011
    Perseverance is the theme of Life, Above All, a drama that is deeply affecting, if also overwhelmingly bleak.
  4. Reviewed by: Manohla Dargis
    Jul 14, 2011
    A grave and quietly moving story about a South African girl of extraordinary character, 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.
  5. Reviewed by: Mary Pols
    Jul 14, 2011
    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.
  6. Reviewed by: Anna Smith
    Jul 10, 2011
    A tough but very rewarding watch.
  7. Reviewed by: Kimberley Jones
    Sep 22, 2011
    In its third act, Life, Above All takes a bit of a dip into la-la land, in terms of believability – how precisely is an impoverished family supposed to have afforded an ambulance and hospice care? – but that doesn't diminish the emotional impact of Manyaka's performance and the idea that courage can be infectious, too.
  8. Reviewed by: Roger Moore
    Sep 21, 2011
    Whatever the grownups say, Manyaka's Chanda is the one person in this village who understands how simple things really are, that it really does come down to Life, Above All.
  9. Reviewed by: Joe Williams
    Aug 12, 2011
    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.
  10. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    Aug 4, 2011
    To a Western audience, the movie may at times feel pat, cooked up, wishful beyond realistic measure. But we're not the ones who need to see it.
  11. Reviewed by: Amy Biancolli
    Jul 21, 2011
    What matters most in this sad, sobering movie is not what anyone says; it's what goes unsaid for most of the running time.
  12. Reviewed by: Pam Grady
    Jul 16, 2011
    It is a dark drama to be sure and it does carry with it a whiff of disease-of-the-week melodrama, yet there is also transcendence in the tale; as bleak as the film is, it is not without hope.
  13. Reviewed by: Joe Morgenstern
    Jul 14, 2011
    This is a modest film, and an affecting one.
  14. Reviewed by: Justin Chang
    Jul 10, 2011
    It's an absorbing, vividly inhabited tale nonetheless, never exploiting its horrors but rather treating them as tough local realities.
  15. Reviewed by: Eric Kohn
    Jul 18, 2011
    The reason to care about Life, Above All doesn't stem from its bleeding-heart plot...The reason to care is newcomer Khomotso Manyaka, who nimbly shoulders a role that places her front and center in nearly every scene.
  16. Reviewed by: Alison Willmore
    Jul 14, 2011
    The ending, which offers a hint of relief, is unfiltered, frankly unbelievable melodrama, but something grimmer and more measured would be intolerable after everything that comes before.
  17. Reviewed by: Liam Lacey
    Jul 14, 2011
    Walks a line between didactic allegory and realistic drama.
  18. Reviewed by: Joe Neumaier
    Jul 15, 2011
    Director Oliver Schmitz's rhythms take a while to ease into, and admittedly, there is never a bright moment.
  19. Reviewed by: Michelle Orange
    Jul 14, 2011
    The scenes between the young actresses are the film's most compelling: Both first-timers, Manamela and Makanyane are possessed of extraordinary faces and plain attitudes.
  20. Reviewed by: Joshua Rothkopf
    Jul 12, 2011
    The sincere director, Oliver Schmitz, injects too much movie into his movie; life (above all) would have been enough.
  21. Reviewed by: Rene Rodriguez
    Sep 15, 2011
    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.
  22. Reviewed by: V.A. Musetto
    Jul 15, 2011
    A downer that too often resorts to melodrama.
  23. Reviewed by: Ella Taylor
    Jul 15, 2011
    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.
  24. 50
    Its schematic structure oversimplifies the drama, despite an interesting, mostly debut cast. It seems better suited for the small screen.
  25. Reviewed by: Melissa Anderson
    Jul 12, 2011
    Life, Above All suggests that ignorance and stigmatization are a problem only in the village, not in the highest office of government.
  26. Reviewed by: Ilya Tovbis
    Jul 19, 2011
    By the time the narrative winds toward its key revelation, even the most earnest viewer is numbed and emotionally desensitized by the unfathomable bleakness already overcrowding the screen.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 5 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 1 out of 1
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 1
  3. Negative: 0 out of 1
  1. Feb 5, 2012
    Life above all is a befitting title for this film. A parable on the value of human life, where prejudices continue to out weigh the value ofLife above all is a befitting title for this film. A parable on the value of human life, where prejudices continue to out weigh the value of another. Until one is willing to find the internal strength to take a stand against these mysticisms in favor of building human character. While there may be inequities this film shines in realism and humanism. Full Review »