30 June 2014

Half of a Yellow Sun

Readers of this blog are probably well aware of my love for Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and will not be surprised to know that I was very, very excited to see this movie. I say this too, so that you realize that I am not at all an objective audience. I liked the movie in large part because I liked the book and enjoyed seeing it on the big screen. It helps that the film is a visual pleasure: lovely backdrops, bright colors, and a borderline ridiculously attractive and extremely talented cast. It also helped that I was watching it at the Siskel, surrounded by Nigerians who laughed, sighed, and murmured recognition throughout the film.

Although it certainly felt a bit rushed at moments, the film does a fairly admirable job in adapting what is after all a 500+ page book. Where the novel wonderfully interweaves several storylines into an effective multiplicity of perspectives, the film centers on one, the relationship between a woman named Olanna and her "revolutionary" lover, set against the backdrop of Nigerian civil war. The film struggles with the novel's impressive balancing between individual lives and big picture history -- news clips are cleverly used to provide information about political events in a non-intrusive and personable way, but any time you have (justly) horrific scenes of political violence, the personal problems rapidly seem paltry in comparison, or worse, melodramatic. It's interesting to consider that novels really might be better at historical fiction than films are, much as we might love watching people prancing around in period costume.

I don't know if the film holds up on its own, absent one's love for the book and sheer, almost physical pleasure of seeing these people and places on the screen. So you should probably go ahead and read the book first =-)

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