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Halving the sun

‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, the film adaptation of the novel of the same title by Chimamanda Adichie has been generating a buzz since it hit the silver screen recently. Here is my impression of it.

Anika Noni Rose and Richard Mawle in a still from the film

Anika Noni Rose and Richard Mawle in a still from the film

Making the jump from the pages of a novel to the silver screen always entails some loss, some more significant than others. There is always something the author captures that a film director can’t. This explains why Gabriel Garcia Marquez never allowed his classic novel One Hundred Years of Solitude  to be adapted for the screen.

How often does one approach the movie adaptation of a best-selling novel only to come away with mixed feelings? Sometimes even outright disappointment?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Half of Yellow a Sun has been adapted into a movie, that is if you have been on Mars and haven’t heard already, or missed the drama the Nigeria Film and Video Censor’s Board made before approving the film for screening.

Having seen the movie, one wonders what the censors board’s issue really is, after all they didn’t make that much noise when Antoine Fuqua’s ‘Tears of the Sun’, starring Bruce Willis and the delectable Monica Bellucci premiered and caused some furore. Like Adichie’s novel, the story is framed by a Nigerian civil war; in Adichie’s novel, one that had actually happened, and in ‘Tears of the Sun’, one that supposedly happens at a future date.

That novelist Biyi Bandele (author of the acclaimed Burma Boy) adapted Adichie’s novel for the screen offered much hope that the film would be as faithful to the novel as possible, but yet again, this film proves that it is not always easy to adapt novels into films.

Don’t get me wrong, Half of  Yellow Sun is a very watchable movie. Thandie Newton struts her usual stuff as Olanna and opposite her Chiwetel Ejiofor did well as Odenigbo, at least he got the accent better than the generic African accent he put on as Dr. Okwe in Dirty Pretty Things.  But Anika Noni Rose is simply captivating as Kainene, that is if you dig really cool and dignified women.

For whatever it is worth, I think Onyeka Onwenu put in a credible performance as Odenigbo’s mother while Nigeria’s screen Diva, Genevieve Nnaji looked anything but in her bit part role.

But you have to stick it to the editing for mutilating some aspects of the story. You don’t have to read the book to know this. The characters lacked depth and come across mostly as cardboard cutouts. The most notable victim of this is Ugwu,  played by John Boyega. His character simply doesn’t leap at you such that when he goes missing in the war, you hardly feel empathy for him and when he is eventually found, the relief is in juxtaposition with Kainene’s disappearance. Not because his character, as portrayed in the movie, wins you over.

But Bandele must be given credit for his attention to details. It is a period movie and as much as he could, he tried to make it one (disregard that an aluminium roof showed up in one shot) and of course the time lapse is questionable in some regards such as the beginning where six years (1960-1966) was made to look like a couple of weeks.

But give him his credit, the costumes were fitting, as were the props and of course the music scores were almost impeccable. When you add the visual effects, you will doff your heart for Biyi. Watch out for the explosions, they will almost knock you off your seat.

But why is this an important movie? Well, for one, because it touches on the civil war, which has been a taboo issue that Nigeria has skirted around ever since. You just can’t have a 30-month long war that consumed a million lives and pretend it never happened. And for the many people who don’t have the luxury of reading books, or choose to deprive themselves of it, this film, with its blemishes, is an opportunity to revist the Biafran war, from a Biafran perspective.

But most importantly what art does in instances of upheavals is to humanise such monumental occurrences and Half of a Yellow Sun does just that, to some extent.

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