After what felt like years Half of a Yellow Sun finally premiered in the UK last night (available in cinemas on April 11th). Half of a Yellow Sun is a love story set against the backdrop of the Nigerian civil war hence the cocktail of joy and sorrow, hypostatized by events like a bomb dropping right in the middle of the main character’s wedding. The storyline is portrayed simply as trouble finding Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Olanna (Thandie Newton) wherever they went. A decade’s worth of narrative is condensed into a mere two hours with Odenigbo’s child, Chiamaka aka “Baby”, functioning as a clock. We see her growing and we can tell that time has passed by.
Writer/Director Biyi Bandele seemed to superficially brush over every scene. His writing though funny, wasn’t meticulous enough. Granted, it is not possible to fit everything in but he didn’t portray the characters as best he could have. We don’t get the opportunity to understand the characters, their pain or why they did anything they did. The directing is better than the writing and considering that this is Bandele’s first feature movie it makes sense that it was flawed. I was just hoping for better.
The audience gets the sense that Odenigbo is contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian. His views are told like they are not legitimate; we aren’t allowed to draw our own conclusions. He is portrayed plainly as a man who betrays his lover and seeks to betray the establishment. As for Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) we never get to see who she is behind her façade. Ugwu (Boyega) has no voice. It probably would have been better if his time on screen ended after we hear about his death. His coming back with no explanation or context was detrimental to the cut-down version of Chimamanda Adichie’s story that Bandele decided to focus on. It was a desperate need for a happy ending. The best-written character is Olanna. She carries the burden of telling Nigeria’s history and subtly dictating its future but instead focuses on herself, her frequent sex and her love squabbles. There is no doubt that Newton is the star of this movie.
The fast-paced way it unfolds is probably the most realistic way of narrating this story, as that must be what it feels like to live through a war. I assume there is urgency compatible with bloodshed-combat that makes life-altering traumatic situations seem like they only happened within 15 minutes. In a war you don’t get the time you need to grieve the death of a loved one, you have to move on and survive. There is collective comprehension that life is for the living. Even though the cast had brilliant performances I don’t see any Oscars in their future as their characters were too simplified, robbed off of any depth. This is a story that needs to be retold.
I do hope that “this is a beginning” for the future of Nigerian literature and awareness of Nigeria’s history and culture.
VERDICT: 3 STARS