Half of a Yellow Sun – Once in a while you come a cross a film that leaves you really think deeply about what you have just seen on screen. ‘Half of the Yellow Sun’ is one of those, its central plot is the love shared between the protagonists, but it is definitely not a romantic film.
Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a university lecturer madly in love with Olanna (Thandie Newton), a high society girl educated in London, they are besotted with each other and everything seems to be going well, or as well as can be given her twin sister Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) takes every opportunity to show disapproval. Olanna takes up a position at the University of Nnsukka to be closer to Odenigbo and their love grows deeper until ‘Mama’ (Onyeka Owenu) shows up with Amala (Susan Wokoma).
‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ is based on a novel written by the award winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and adapted to screenplay by Biyi Bandele, who is also directed the movie. I can’t say much for how close he kept to the original work but it seems the film met with Chimamanda’s seal of approval so any variance is either insignificant or valid. I was initially hesitant about reviewing it for Nollywood Boulevard as it is technically a British film but it was shot in Nigeria, has a large indigenous cast and crucially deals with an important , yet largely untold, part of Nigerian History. Another reason for my hesitation was I got the impression many Nigerians were not impressed with it, say compared to ‘October 1’, a fictional story set around the same period also dealing with difficult historical issues.
For me this movie is gorgeous; beautiful to watch with the vibrant African colours splashed lavishly on screen, gradually desaturating as the story gets ‘bleaker’, and it does get pretty bleak. Olanna and Odenigbo’s love gets stretched and frayed with every passing scene. Its almost as if their love is a mirror of Nigeria as a nation and how it is buffeted by its colonial past and the present day tribal differences. The performance of the actors was credible but apart from the sisters the characters seemed to lack depth, especially Odenigbo. He constantly bickers about almost everything but I didn’t really get what his motivation was or at least I never see him actually reach for anything in the movie, which leads me to my biggest issue with the film. It appears to bash men or paint them in very poor light at every plot twist. The male characters are weak and give into temptation easily. The only men who appeared to be strong were the ones creating the civil war or killing people indiscriminately. While that may have been unintentional it was glaring to me as this is a common Hollywood narrative of African men.
One thing I found distracting were the scenes in Kano. I lived 6 years in the North of Nigeria and nothing in those scenes remotely resembled the North. I could tell within the first few seconds of the film that it was shot in the South. A simple trip to Kano by the production team (with local help) would have helped make it more authentic (Hausa people would hardly have worn Ankara in 1960’s). Having said that, the dated look was convincing and I thought the wardrobe department and production design did a lovely job. The camera work was also pretty good, there was a particular scene you should watch out for – the family is packing up as a bombing raid starts and you have the camera panning beautifully between the rooms as the house help Ugwu (John Boyega) gathers the luggage and eventually shut the doors. This scene is so cinematic I think the director and Editor milked it for a few more second beyond its worth.
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ and think it is a story well and competently told. Its cast which delivered great performances, and I was especially delighted with John Boyega – this lad is fast becoming a British actor to watch. I would have loved it to delve a bit deeper into the civil war but I guess it is a film about the impact of the war rather than about the war. I would assume people will find it difficult to gauge how costly the loss of war is without knowing a bit more about its cause. I would rather look at the film as a love story, which makes it a more successful movie in my opinion. I would gladly recommend ‘Half of the Yellow Sun’ but while you should not expect it to be a sweet film as it should be a delightful watch.