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Review: Above and Below

BY LUNGELO KHANYILE

Initially a film school graduation project, Above and Below is an intriguing documentary by Swiss director Nicolas Steiner; a former Fulbright scholar at the San Francisco Art Institute.

 Above and Below explores the lives of people living under what many would call ‘peculiar circumstances’ through chronicling the lives of Cindy and Rick, April and Dave and Lalo; five Americans who are legally recognized as homeless. Crystal meth addicts Cindy and Rick live in the tunnels of Sin City, but lead ‘normal’ lives like the rest of us. Cindy is a typical woman, who takes care of her family while Rick tries to beautify the shabby place they call home. Dave (an eccentric character to say the least), lives in an old military bunker.

He is a hardworking father with two failed marriages who chooses to live a solitary existence in the desert. The shadowy character that is Lalo (known as the “the Godfather”), spends his days living underground. Steiner’s challenges the audience to look beyond the surface and cease judgmental upon the homeless, through humanising their experiences. A fascinating account of the characters daily struggles of survival is unfolded through their efforts to overcome the demons that have come to possess their current life.

The notion of ‘the conventional family’ is turned on its head, as the film explores a variety of themes. All the characters – except the Godfather of course – seem to have family issues. Dave is estranged from his second wife, while Cindy’s children fear for her life. April has an absentee father who unexpectedly re-enters her life, and a mother who never wanted children. The story of Lalo’s rise to governor and patriarch of the slums is a mystery, but, he is trusted to resolve any domestic issues underground. The audience however never hears a word about Rick’s back story.

Initially, the audience might find the film is slow on momentum, but the depth of the characters will definitely keep you interested. Steiner’s characters are far from one dimension. You might find yourself in profound thought from Cindy’s words of wisdom, while Dave’s outlook and religious beliefs are deeply insightful.

 

Lungelo Khanyile is a Durban born and bred film enthusiast, and aspiring film critic who lives for film, television and writing. "Simplicity provides a fine line between elegance and plainness" is a quote I live and write by.

Twitter: @lungelo_k  

 

The 36th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) is organised by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (a special project of the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Humanities, Cheryl Potgieter) with support from the National Film and Video Foundation, , KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission, City of Durban, German Embassy, Goethe Institut, Industrial Development Corporation, Gauteng Film Commission, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture and a range of other valued partners.

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