Film: Half of a Yellow Sun
Director: Biyi Bandele
Screenplay: Biyi Bandele
Producer(s): Andrea Calderwood
Running time: 111 minutes
Reviewer: Oyin Oludipe
Biyi Bandele’s film adaptation of the 2006 novel, Half of a Yellow Sun is bold as well as daring. To think that Adichie’s beautiful sentences would materialize into camera light and movements catches the fancy of an anxious mind; yet, as the scenes would play out in a hurry, the book imageries fit into the screen in an instance and then diverge in some others, marooned by the yawning absence of depth as it concerns the political tone of the author’s story and the complete manifestation of her characters.
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Like this, Calderwood and Egan’s production is riddled with intentions but only succeeds as the struggling shadow of a magnum opus, the half of a mellow sum. A lot of things are muted – like a placeable Igbo from the lips of Thandie Newton (Olanna) or Okeoma’s highbrow poetry, or the intellectual radicalism of Chiwetel Ejiofor (Odenigbo) and his friends, or Ugwu’s inventiveness in kitchen and on battlefield; and, again, not stressing the awkward supplanting of Joseph Mawle’s (Richard) heroic adventurism against a sordid backdrop of need and lily livers. All of these which are the swirling landscapes in Adichie’s book elude sight. It dilutes the intensity of the bravery that led to the penning of an aesthetic frustration, as well as its historic concomitance with the Nigerian civil war.
However, before the levies of expectation are foisted, I like to reason that adaptations are only pseudo-reproductions of perfection. They cannot be as seamless or as willed as their preceding concepts. As also played out in C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter or Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird; there seems to be the cert of a spawn-shortcoming. It is, perhaps, for this reason alone that Biyi Bandele’s scraper-movie can be forgiven of its commonplace. One might say that these were the reformative handiwork of the instruments of an intended melodrama or that an initiative has simply generously sought to animate national history (even if in its sheerest skein). While the former is dismissible, the latter cannot be.
In retrospect, not much of Nigerian authorship has essentially translated into cinemas. Films such as Wole Soyinka’s Blues for a Prodigal and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in the 1980’s were a welcome yet weakened phenomenon as literature progressed forth into the twenty-first century Nigeria. In this light, Half of a Yellow Sun also comes across as a revolutionary meteor across the conformist void of the modern Nigerian literary scene.
Still thin, the movie offers an exciting glimpse of Life in eastern Nigeria, where once the heat of the civil war swelled in every direction – the hurtling marketplaces, Cuban era cars and nascent landscapes of urban life. In any quick estimation of appeal, one of the two major successes the director manages to reach is in the well-placed scenery that corresponds with the set of an olden day. Biyi’s attention to detail, the wardrobe of the cast, the hairstyles, and music with petite transistor radios at the cynosure of startled ears stuns the observant watcher. Miriam Makeba’s The Naughty Little Flea introduces a happy strain of Africa emblazoned by the celebration of Independence and from there it all begins. The drama of four lives – Odenigbo, Richard and the twin sisters, Kainene and Olanna – amid the anxieties of socio-political events unfurl in romantic conflicts and migrations.
I particularly enjoyed the character of Anika Noni Rose (Kainene), confident and aloof, even in the way she mentions Odenigbo as ‘the revolutionary’ to Olanna. She is the only real epitome of consistency throughout the scenes, ever-sultry and mtysterious as fore-painted by Adichie herself. She is the second of Biyi’s major successes. Her relationship with Richard is also an interesting phase, one of passion and re-orientations of passion. The duo wriggling to Rex Lawson’s Bere Bote in a local bar is a humorous show.
Although, it is too fast-paced, slightly incongruent and simplistic; Biyi’s filmic invention is filled with colours, ambition and gusto. Africa is in dire need of these.
Oyin Oludipe, poet, playwright, blogger and critic, studied Mass Communication at Babcock University, Nigeria.