"A commanding performance from screen newcomer Khomotso Manyaka lights up Life, Above All, a moving adaptation of Allan Stratton's bestselling 2004 novel Chanda's Secrets." Allan Hunter for Screen: "A classic coming of age story is given added dramatic heft by placing it in a South Africa where so many children are obliged to assume adult responsibilities as the AIDS pandemic leaves hundreds of thousands of orphans in its wake."
"For Oliver Schmitz, it's a welcome (and much improved) return to feature filmmaking 10 years after the worthy but wonky Hijack Stories, and nearly scaling the heights of his exemplary 1988 debut Mapantsula," writes Guy Lodge at In Contention. "Carrying the film on her slender shoulders is young Khomotso Manyaka: terse, resourceful and thoroughly winning as a 12 year-old girl in a rural Highveld village who is left holding down the fort when her baby sister dies and her mother withdraws completely."
"Oliver Schmitz captures the shame of men and women robbed of their will to effectively fight a disease that continues to annihilate their existence," writes Falila Gbadamassi at Afrik.com. "Their own stupidity deals them the last but fatal blow. A discreet tribute to women who find themselves in the front lines, as is often the case in Africa, Life, Above All serves as an eye into why President Jacob Zuma launched an aggressive anti-AIDS campaign, on April 25."
"Alone among the films here, this was one that had critics cheering like schoolkids, in a 10-minute standing ovation, and wiping tears from their gimlet eyes," reports Mary Corliss for Time.
It "hit me with an emotional punch that I found difficult to resist," confesses Matt Bochenski at Little White Lies. "Difficult, but not impossible.... Last year, Ounie Lecomte's A Brand New Life broke my heart with its story of a young girl sundered from her father. Life, Above All is cut from a similar cloth, but it succumbs too often to melodrama and grandstanding to be quite as effective."
"The film's ending frightens the audience with a dire threat, and then finds an uplift that's unlikely enough in its details to qualify as magic realism," blogs Roger Ebert.
Update, 5/25: "Fear, of course, is the driving force behind any taboo," writes Natasha Senjanovic in the Hollywood Reporter, "and fear of AIDS on a continent that has been decimated by it, where a cure is still nearly impossible, is understandable. Subsequently, the film's hopeful but formulaic ending — lessons of forgiveness and acceptance are quickly learned — undermines its very premise. If it were that easy to change people's minds about AIDS, it wouldn't be taboo anymore."